The culture of good place-making, like the culture of farming, oragriculture, is a body of knowledge and acquired skills. It is not bredin the bone, and if it is not transmitted from one generation tothe next, it is lost. 113
There is a main road–not Main Street–that grew out of our small town, much like roads spawned in every town. We call it “the Strip”. Fast food restaurants, gas stations, box stores, service-oriented businesses and a few banks populate two miles of avenue. Buildings are plopped at random angles to the road, all out of joint with their neighbors; instead of continuity there is discord, and most structures are simply ugly.
I appreciated reading The Geography of Nowhere: The Rise and Decline of America’s Man-Made Landscape because it helped me answer why an ugly urban/suburban landscape is so typical, so, so common. The quick answer is a lack of connectedness, a lack of respect for the surroundings, a premium on convenience and a strong shot of individualism.
The organic wholeness of the small town was a result of common, everyday attention to details, of intimate care for things intimately used. The discipline of its physical order was based not on uniformity for its own sake, but on a consciousness of, and respect for, what was going on next door. Such awareness and respect were not viewed as a threat to individual identity but as necessary for the production of amenity, charm, and beauty. These concepts are now absent from our civilization. We have become accustomed to living in places where nothing relates to anything else, where disorder, unconsciousness, and the absence of respect reign unchecked. 185
Cars, televisions and the resulting cultural decay get a scathing condemnation. So do faux front porches and front garages.
The main problem with [the suburban sub-division] was that it dispensed with all the traditional connections and continuities of community life, and replaced them with little more than cars and television. 105
The least understood cost [of long commutes]–although probably the most keenly felt–has been the sacrifice of a sense of place: the idea that people and things exist in some sort of continuity, that we belong to the world physically and chronologically, and that we know where we are. 118
Nor do shopping malls escape prophetic wrath. Kunstler points out that a vacuum of human contact and conversation led to the phenomenon of shopping malls. Malls are little islands isolated from the community. And if your dream vacation destination is Disney World (she rolls her eyes), be prepared to be disabused of some of your jolly ideas.
...new merchandising gimmick called the shopping mall…offering a synthetic privatized substitute for every Main Street in America. 108
The decay of property is the physical expression of everything the town has lost spiritually while the American economy “grew” and the nation devised a national lifestyle based on cars, cheap oil and recreational shopping. 184
Neighborhoods in Maine seem to me the best examples of good place-making. New construction is architecturally designed to fit with the older homes; there are “greens” and “squares”–shared public spaces–built into many new subdivisions.
This book is a diagnostic tool, not a solution manual. The tone is quite pessimistic. But if you have an interest in architecture, in sociology or cultural trends, you may find–like I did–much to ponder.
I just can’t stop myself. Here’s one last quote:
Americans wonder why their houses lack charm. […] Charm is dependent on connectedness, on continuities, on the relation of one thing to another, often expressed in tension, like the tension between private space and public space, or the sacred and the workaday, or the interplay of a space that is easily comprehensible, such as a street, with the mystery of openings that beckon, such as a doorway set deeply in a building. […] If nothing is sacred, than everything is profane. 168