The City in Mind: Notes on the Urban Condition — James Howard Kunstler

I’ve been working on this book since the beginning of the year, and am glad to have it finished at last. My strategy in 2010 for non-fiction is to attempt to read more fiction concurrently so I don’t end up feeling like I’m slogging through dry material. I think the end result of taking a month to read a book that would normally take less than a week is not necessarily the best trade-off.

Anyhow.

This is not really Kunstler’s most well known book, but it was the most interesting sounding to me—taking a look at the pivotal points in the development of various major cities and looking at how they’ve had an effect on modern urban form.

Through his examinations of Paris, Atlanta, Mexico City, Berlin, Las Vegas, Rome, Boston, and London we learn that Kunstler has a definite love of Hussman (the man responsible for Napoleon III’s redevelopment of Paris) and blames the Olmsteds (of all people) for suburban America. There were also a ton of strange assumptions about they underlying psychology of societal development that I found either offensive (in the case of a lot of his discussion of Mexico City) or just downright baffling. This book was also written nearly ten years ago, so I’d be interested to see his comments on Boston in particular, now that we’re post Big Dig.

While I don’t disagree that there’s a lot of push and pull between American expectations of urban experience that has led to the development of sprawl and gentrification of our city’s cores, he doesn’t really end up offering any alternatives other than to keep saying that we’re looking for the wrong things.

“You’re doing it wrong.” is not productive social commentary as far as I’m concerned.