Friday, March 27, 2009

Home From Nowhere by James Kunstler

Home From Nowhere, Remaking Our Everyday World for the 21st Century, explores the growing movement across America to restore the physical dwelling place of our civilization.
Kunstler advocates a return to traditional modes of city and town planning that has been labeled the "New Urbanism." And he casts his eye about America, critiquing cities' attempts to remake themselves.
“Charm is a quality of place that helps people to see relationships among things and invites participation.” (Chapter 4) Kunstler writes about the idea of a close knit utopian city where everything can be reached within 5 miles. He believed this unity which was forming became abandoned after World War II when many soldiers came home and began to live in urban settings. This quote establishes his reasoning that public space is important and communities should connect their businesses and residential homes together to form a closer bond. Zoning laws have created this anti-social community in which the freedom and mind-set of individuals have become isolated through an unconscious segregation.
This isolation has altered our appreciation for nature and its spontaneity. Suburban lifestyle is defined in the reading as unreality because of its uniformity and restrictions. “Now, why would a casual observer viewing this tranquil scene want to jump out of his skin and shriek?” This reminds me of another book, The Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle, in which three children transported to an alternate world in which suburban life was the only form of community. It showed the extreme living conditions where every house, yard, street, and family looked and acted exactly the same. For example, at a certain time during the day, a child from each house would walk out and bounce a basketball with exactly the same rhythm. Then the mother from each house would call to the child for him to come inside. Can you imagine watching this scene? This is how Kunstler views the future of suburban lifestyle. It is an eerie and shocking unreality that in a way, Kunstler is describing.
“Americans love Disney World back home [as opposed to Disney World in France] because the everyday places where they live and go about their business are so dismal that Disney World seems splendid in comparison.” (pg. 35) Disney World possesses this public realm which is open to everyone. It contains homes, businesses, small scaled cities, attractions, theatre and a lifestyle that anyone can freely roam through. “Public realm is the connective tissue to our everyday world.” (pg. 36) “The true public realm then, for the sake of this argument, is that portion of our everyday world which belongs to everybody and to which is therefore a set of real places possessing physical form.” (pg. 36) Why then do we build homes and streets that isolate us from the rest of society?
In the later part of the book, he speaks of personal interactions with communities and the problems that exist within them. He describes the lack of civil artistry and the unknowledgeable people that lead and design these communities.
In conclusion, Kunstler gives seven major suggestions on how to solve the crisis of collapsing communities. He offered to make a radius of five miles out from the center of communities which would contain residences, public buildings and business. This radius would help communities connect, interact, grow stronger, and care for one another through their public realms.

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