Sunday, February 21, 2010

The Geography of Nowhere: The Rise and Decline of America’s Man-Made Landscape was written by James Howard Kunstler’s and first published in 1993. Though tracing the development of place in the United States, Kunstler argues that America’s built-landscapes, both urban and rural, have declined for numerous reasons, central among them the advent of the affordable automobile and the political, economic, and cultural forces that resulted. Although the book is nearly twenty years old, the issues Kunstler discusses regarding the places we live continue to be problems in the United States and Canada. Sprawling cities, declining local economies, developments that ignore human scale, and architecture that ignores traditional relationships people should have with their surroundings are still resulting in the dislocation of people and communities.

Since the 1980s a school of design has emerged called New Urbanism, which promotes a high standard of living through thoughtful, common sense design practices. Many of the tenets of this people-centred design paradigm can be fulfilled through the conservation of heritage resources. Conserving buildings and landscapes keeps our communities unique and builds sense of place, fostering local identity and pride. Retaining open spaces like parks and town squares ensures a continued public realm that helps maintain community ties, an important consideration in an age when commercial and suburban building practices marginalize public space in return for creating more profitable private space. Furthermore, many historic buildings were constructed for mixed commercial and residential use on a human scale, creating integrated communities, walkable streets and meaningful interaction between people and buildings.

I would strongly recommend The Geography of Nowhere to anyone interested in the evolution of North American human ecology.

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