The Tragedy of Suburbia

In this video, James Howard Kunstler tells you why suburbia hasn’t been delivering on what it’s been promising: a respite from the industrial city.

The automobile created the opportunity to own a “country” house. As more people purchased cars, more people also wanted to purchase homes outside the city. What happened is the modern suburban experience became a cartoon of the original desire to have a “country” house outside of the city.

Kunstler advocates sustainability through living locally. Love this guy’s passionate delivery.

NSFW for language

According to his TED conference bio:
“James Howard Kunstler may be the world’s most outspoken critic of suburban sprawl. He believes the end of the fossil fuels era will soon force a return to smaller-scale, agrarian communities — and an overhaul of the most destructive features of postwar society.”

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Jude Galligan, REALTOR, Principal of TOWERS Realty and publisher of Downtown Austin Blog (aka. "DAB"), spends his time matching remarkable people with remarkable properties in Austin’s urban core. A resident owner in downtown Austin, Jude has served on the Board of the Downtown Austin Alliance (DAA) and the City of Austin Downtown Commission. Contact Jude.


  1. But what this socialist fails to observe is that people who live in the burbs choose to do so with their own money. Why does he care if they sit it traffic? If people wanted to live densely with no car rips, they would. We can all choose.

    • Except it’s not that simple. Your burb-dweller chose to live in the burbs, true, but he chose to do so in an environment where it’s artificially cheap (subsidized), and the alternatives are artificially expensive (financially penalized and legally prohibited almost everywhere).

  2. avatar austincontrarian says:

    OK, I took 21:42 out of my life to watch it. The first 15 minutes is a funny stand-up routine. I laughed a few times. But, look, it’s too easy — he spends fifteen minutes ridiculing some ugly places, and interspersing pictures of attractive streetscapes.

    But it’s much harder to figure out how to integrate new urbanist environments with the automobile modern demand for convenience. (The automobile hasn’t disappeared yet). Adres Duany, Peter Calthorpe, and Stefan Polyzoides have been wrestling with this issue for years, doing the hard, gritty work. Kunstler’s just a clown.

    Note that around the 15 minute mark, Kunstler goes off on his messianic rant. Note also his statement that “Chris” — apparently one of the conference organizers — “told me not to go on too long about this.” The smart people there know he’s full of crap.

  3. avatar austincontrarian says:

    Doomsaying isn’t really a “field.”

    What drives me crazy is Kunstler’s thesis that we’ll return to “smaller-scale, agrarian communities.” Cities will become more important, not less, as energy becomes more scarce. Kunstler gets a pass on this nonsense because of his more mainstream criticism of suburbia.

    For more detail, see (ignore my attempt at humor; just scroll down to the long passage near the end).

  4. If you care to elaborate, I’m sure we’d appreciate more detail as to why you don’t like him. While I don’t know much about him, I do know that the people invited to speak at TED are at the top of their field.

    Sometimes, a passionate delivery is important to wake people up.

  5. avatar austincontrarian says:

    Sorry, but Kunstler is an idiot. He should pick up an urban economics textbook sometime; as best I can tell, he’s never seen one.

    He’s written enough that, as a matter of chance, he’s bound to be right occasionlly. But it’s safer to assume that whatever he says is wrong and demand proof otherwise.

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