At Grist Magazine out of Seattle Washington, Kerry Trueman interviews “peak oil profit”, James Howard Kunstler – author of “The Long Emergency: Surviving the End of Oil, Climate Change, and Other Converging Catastrophes of the Twenty-First Century” (2005).
Kerry Trueman’s beautifully written, witty and urbane introduction sets an intelligent tone for a weighty question and answer in which Kunstler’s every sentence are caulk full of thoughtfulness and meaning.
In part they talk about the urban infrastructure that cheap oil has created and the cultural adoption of it as the American Dream, the myth that seemingly, we’re not ready yet to believe we have to wake up from – before it culminates in a real life nightmare of “Converging Catastrophes”.
Below is the second of five questions from the article where Mr. Kunstler gets to lay out a narrative that explains the motivations behind a wide spread back-lash across America (continent of) against the acceptance of the coming chaos – and that alludes rather nicely I think, to the mythos that carried our new Mayor and his “War on the Car” to power last fall…
From Grist Magazine:
“James Howard Kunstler: The old American dream is a nightmare”
By Kerry Trueman
Q. Is “smart growth” the antidote to sprawl, or just a developer’s disingenuous oxymoron?
A. “Smart growth” started as a polemical retort to the “dumb” growth of suburban sprawl. It happened that dumb growth was utterly entrenched in all our local land-use laws, and in the sectors that served them – especially the construction trades and our lending practices. The zoning laws mandated a car-dependent outcome, and the builders furnished it, exactly as specified.
By the way, it’s important to understand that suburbia was not dreamed up by the devil or any of his agents among us. It just seemed like a good idea in the America of the 20th century. We had the material and capital resources to build this empire of comfort and convenience, so we did. And all this implies a powerful cultural consensus — a broad agreement that this way of living is okay.
Eventually, of course, it became embedded in our national identity as a late incarnation of the American Dream. All well and good — and over! Because our circumstances have changed drastically now. We face the awful predicament of peak oil, and the global contest over the world’s remaining resources, and reality is telling us very loudly that we have to live differently — we have to get a new American Dream.
The resistance to this is ferocious, not because Americans are particularly dumb or wicked, but because of the massive investments we have already made in these suburban infrastructures for daily living. We can’t accept the scary mandates of reality, or begin the process of letting go.
Smart growth was a strategy undertaken by the New Urbanist reformers to offer an alternative template for land development in America — one based on the traditional walkable neighborhood. The New Urbanists were superbly skilled at drawing up clear graphical codes that might be used to replace the suburban codes around the country. The term “smart” growth was intended to be a selling point — though, unfortunately it often offended the very people it was aimed at by making their own codes look dumb.
Personally, I regret that this moniker was adopted, because it inadvertently provoked so much push-back. But by default the New Urbanists have basically won the argument, even if victory hasn’t been officially declared. The housing bubble bust has seen to that. It represents not just a transient economic fiasco; it is the end of the suburban project per se. We are finished with suburbia. We’re stuck with the residue of it. And now we’ll see how this all sorts itself out in the face of $100+ per barrel oil.
We will probably come to see a long era of little-to-no-growth. Whatever happens in terms of the human habitat from now on will involve the re-use of stuff that is already there, one way or another.
Personally, I believe the action is going to shift to small towns, small cities, and places that exist in a relationship with a productive agricultural landscape. The fate of suburbia is to become slums, salvage sites, and ruins. Human beings are very good at sorting out materials, and we’ll have to do a lot of that. I believe a great deal of all trade in the years ahead will be in material goods already made, re-purposed, as they say, and re-circulated.
Posted: March 9th, 2011
Author: michael holloway
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