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THE CITY IN MIND by James Howard Kunstler


Notes on the Urban Condition

by James Howard Kunstler

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 2002
ISBN: 0-684-84591-1
Publisher: Free Press

A connoisseur’s romp through cities good and bad, all judged by the author.

Kunstler is a potent enemy of modernism. Armed with a wicked style and absolute confidence in his worldview—“Surely even educated people are weary of being on the cutting edge all the time”—he adds this collection of short, interlinked essays to his growing series (Home from Nowhere, 1996) on what makes or breaks an urban space. Throughout these pieces, he promotes classic architecture and planning as the alternative to the car-centric, glass-box-skyscraper-dotted, suburb-dominated city. He considers Paris to be the best place in the world because it was planned for people, not cars: Its buildings are the right height, its streets just wide enough. Best of all, reforms to its infrastructure in the 19th century demolished the worst of the past and embraced the best of the present. Kunstler is no preservationist, nor does he think parks are the solution to every urban woe. In discussing what Boston should do with the open land created after a highway running through the city is sunk underground, he dismisses talk of an enormous greensward, arguing that the park solution is based on the English-born assumption that cities are inherently flawed and thus must be made to resemble nature. Instead, he proposes erecting more buildings, increasing density, but only if those buildings are of the proper height and style (i.e., no more hulking towers). Kunstler engagingly blasts urban planners in cities like Atlanta, where it takes half an hour to drive to the supermarket. His critical eye is sharp because he shares with his subjects—like Georges Haussmann and Frederick Law Olmstead—the will to create an ideal city, where transportation flows easily and people of different classes mingle congenially. That enthusiasm, along with a uniquely acerbic tone, shines through these pages.

A salutary treatise for architects, mayors, and laypeople.