I recently caught up with James Howard Kunstler, reknowned author of The Geography of Nowhere about his new title Too Much Magic: Wishful Thinking, Technology and the Fate of the Nation. I’ll be posting a full review of the book soon, but this will give you a flavor for what the book delves into. While we certainly try to remain “optimistic” and “forward-thinking” here at Urban Times, it’s also important to make sure that our attempts to build a better future are checked by a sense of pragmatism. In many ways, Kunstler steps out to really drive home the point that our current trajectory is not going to result in a pleasant outcome and that the technological solutions to our major concerns aren’t coming. Kunstler has an interesting perspective that really contrasts some of the idealism that we see in other influential characters within the built arena. I highly encourage you to read the book, and to check out Kunstler’s other work over on his site.
Josh : Your new book Too Much Magic paints a pretty stark picture for the United States and global society. Can you briefly summarize for those interested the major point that you’re trying to get across?
JHK: First, that we’re investing too much of our battered national spirit and our dwindling material resources on a campaign to sustain the unsustainable – namely, propping up the hyper car-dependent American Dream suburban matrix. Second, that a lot of this squandered effort takes the form of wishful thinking (praying for Santa Claus to deliver technological rescue remedies so we can keep running WalMart and Disney World). Third, that the diminishing returns of technology (i.e. dangerous “blowbacks”) never sleep.
Josh: I’ll apologize in advance for posing all the “what do you think” questions, but clearly Too Much Magic dives into some paradigm shifts that we’re most likely going to resist as a society. In fact, I kept waiting for that “but wait” moment to come along where you revealed the easy technological fix or the solution that was going to allow us to rise from our own ashes. That being said, I just wanted to use the opportunity to really explore what your ideas are and how they impact us as a society.
There’s been a lot of talk among those interested in built environment issues (Urban Land Institute, Richard Florida, etc.) about the return of today’s young professionals to cities. Do you think that this is a lasting trend and do you think it will really have any impact on some of the peak oil issues that we face?
JHK: I think we’ll be shocked to see how the urban scene actually works out. Many people assume that if suburbia fails (which it will) that everybody will move to the big cities. Guess what — ? Our giant, “metroplex” cities are not scaled to the resource realities of the future either. They’re too big. They will have to contract substantially around their old cores and waterfronts (if they are fortunate enough go have them). The process will be painful and disorderly and will involve a massive loss of notional wealth. In my opinion the action will shift to the small cities and the small towns, especially those located in meaningful relation to agriculture, inland waterways, and rail lines. The agricultural landscape will also be inhabited differently as industrial farming yields to much smaller scale activity requiring more human attention. Plenty of places will fail absolutely. Think: Phoenix, Las Vegas, Orlando, Atlanta…. In any case the assumption that socio-economic relations will remain in their present disposition – i.e. a large class of well-paid techno-arty cubicle serfs – is a fantasy sure to disappoint the techno-triumphalists. We’re going to be a much poorer society and agriculture and its correlative value-added activities will return to the center of American economic life.
Josh: Let’s supposed that I’m truly a visionary and influential individual with the power to convince people to make changes in their lives in order to smooth the transition into a scenario where energy deficiency becomes a more definitive part of our everyday life, what single change would I become an advocate for? How can we have the most “bang for our buck” in curbing our energy use?
JHK: I’d suggest we quit trying to extend the Happy Motoring system at all costs (e.g. hybrid and electric cars – fuggeddabowdem) and do everything possible to shift to walkable communities connected by some kind of transit. Plus I would put a lot of our remaining capital resources into rehabbing the conventional rail system. This is a big continent. The airline industry will be dwindling down to nothing. Forget high speed rail. We missed the window of opportunity on that. This is a new age of impaired capital formation. But Americans would be delighted to go from Chicago to Minneapolis at 90 miles-an-hour, which was state-of-the-art in 1925, especially if the trains ran on schedule and the stations were above the public toilet level of amenity.
Full Story: Interview with James Howard Kunstler – Author and Urbanist Critic
Source: UrbanTimes, July 5, 2012