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J.H. Kunstler on Suburbia

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The Greatest Misallocation of Resources In History

When you degrade the public realm you will automatically degrade the quality of your civic life.

"Suburbia is the greatest misallocation of resources in the history of the world" says
James Howard Kunstler (author: The Long Emergency, Geography of Nowhere, Witches of Hebron, World Made By Hand and more)

In this Ted Talk from 2004, Kunstler explores the tragedy of America's suburban environment. 2004 was another era: years before the bail outs, market crash, real estate implosion, bankrupt governments worldwide and 7 fewer years of non stop wars than now. It wasn’t mainstream to worry too much about the tragedy of the American lifestyle: how quickly it may end or how challenging it would be to retrofit.

It was considered very fringe, negative, counter productive, and “un-American” to pose these questions back then.

Now it is what millions of us are thinking about: Mc Mansions and long commutes are over – or at least becoming very problematic. We will need to grow food locally, live and work locally, manufacture locally, create strong communities and nurture living and breathing civic environments for CITIZENS, not consumers.

Kunstler approached these changes on the horizon initially through his critique of suburbia.

The culture of civic design is about the ability to create places that are meaningful -- places of quality and character. He contrasts our malls and civic spaces to the town squares of older cultures "where people actually wanted to go - you didn't have to have a craft fair." The architecture and town design complimented the flow of commerce and citizens. These town squares were living and breathing public realms that inform us not only where we are geographically, but where we are in our culture.

America threw these ideals in the garbage after WWII. The combination of super cheap, abundant domestic oil, the rise of manufacturing, the explosion of the auto industry, and the massive expansion of suburbs for the returning vets and the emerging middle class resulted in… a vast plastic and asphalt land that has neither the benefits of the city or the country: Suburbia.

Kunstler concludes this presentation with the message that as soon as the cheap oil runs out - this grotesque American lifestyle party is over. I believe we’re listening now.

--Bibi Farber

This video is produced by Ted Talks