This past weekend I read Home From Nowhere by James Howard Kunstler. The book is a sequel to his first book titled Geography Of Nowhere which I thoroughly enjoyed. In the Geography Of Nowhere, Kunstler put into words what I and thousands of readers have felt for quite sometime: suburbia sucks. With contempt mollified by humor Kunstler took us through the many phases of American rural and urban development that have led us as a people to a life of mind-numbing depression and anxiety in the ‘burbs. The Geography Of Nowhere really opened my eyes to the chief antagonists of the day: the auto and oil industries, bad architects, developers and planners, and of course bureaucrats. In closing his first work, Kunstler does leave us with the hope of New Urbanism.

Home From Nowhere recaps many of the points noted in Geography Of Nowhere to bring everyone up to speed on the plight of suburbanites and catastrophic development. To wit, imagine “Main Street USA” Disneyworld — a reference point Kunstler uses on a number of occasions — and juxtapose that with your own community. We all want to live on Main Street USA yet most of us find ourselves in a concrete jungle shuttling back and forth in overpriced, gas-guzzling jalopies. Though written almost 10 years ago and in an age before the Net began bringing greater awareness to the oil crisis, the environment, New Urbanism, etc. the book is still as relevant today as it was then thanks in large part to the fact that we are still suffering under the hand of the same antagonists noted above.

Home From Nowhere’s purpose, however, is not to relay more anecdotes on urban decay but rather to explain in very readable prose many of the solutions towards building better communities. Kunstler presents us with ideas championed by the likes of the Congress for the New Urbanism that seem so simple to implement, so common sense in their approach that they should have been utilized long before this crisis we face today. He enlightens the reader on such conventions as mixed-use zoning, Georgist site-value taxation, and proper street planning without one moment of boredom that zoning law would normally produce. His style of writing in conversational yet convincing, academic but common, and avoiding righteousness altogether. Given his spite for the automobile I would have assumed he was a 60’s ex-hippie. Then the next moment he’s lashing out against the local and state governments that have fostered and promoted the sprawl brought on by our beloved and maligned cars.

My only true criticisms of Home From Nowhere (and of the author in general) are minor. I feel Kunstler could have expounded upon many of the New Urbanism ideas in greater detail. I will admit that I tend to play Sim City from an ant’s-eye view rather than perched like a god high above. As such, I was hoping for more examples of mixed-use zoning success stories that have worked in the past and their specifics. He mentions Seaside, FL and its architects quite a bit but does not go into what exactly made it a successful model of development. This especially hits close to home because the St. Joe Corporation is building Southwood, a planned community in south Tallahassee inspired by the success of Seaside. I have been curious and hopeful about Southwood as an idea but skeptical in its execution and especially its pricing. I fear another Celebration, FL.

I have recommended this book to several of my friends who also have expressed concern about what kind of community we would like to raise our kids in. Before Kunstler and the Internet, there was hardly a movement afoot to influence the shaping of our communities. Today there are dozens of cities implementing (sadly, on much too small a scale) New Urbanism ideals and colleges are finally churning out future designers, architects, planners, and public administrators who have at least been exposed to these ideals. I am hoping, for the sake of all of us, that JH Kunstler and the New Urbanists become household names.

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