…that’s what I’ve been calling it, that thing a lot of us seem to be experiencing as we watch our assets shrink, our liabilities increase, and our networks deteriorate. At times, it can seem a sad state of affairs, at others, it feels like we knew all along that the ever increasing, hyper-complexity of our lives could not continue. It was a distorted game of musical chairs, and many secretly sighed a sigh of relief when it started to unravel.
I had the great pleasure of meeting James Howard Kunstler this weekend. I found him to be humorous and personable. We were able to chat for a few moments. I asked him how he met Duncan and shared with him the frustrations of working with a Planning Department and community that can’t yet wrap their minds around transect based codes. I asked him about his paintings to which he replied, he’d like to do more portraits, but it is difficult finding people that are willing to sit for two hours at a time.
I spent the next day attending a lecture by Jim following his reception of the 2009 Seaside Prize, a book signing, and a forum at the Seaside Institute where Jim was a panelists along with several other New Urbanist rock stars. Of course, my main interest was to see and hear Jim, though it was certainly interesting to hear the elite, new urbanist lexicon regurgitated for all to be in awe of — the sheer ideological genius we were witnessing. They expressed a desire to inspire and be inclusive while also looking to the young people for the future. I ask, are they aware of the grass roots efforts growing all around them? Do they see the alternatives that are outside their realm, like permaculture? And, where are our county officials? the Planning Department? the environmental groups? The average citizen? The room was filled with academics, architects, developers, and those who delight in owning a small piece of New Urbanism. It was as though we were on a parallel universe and momentarily disconnected from on-the-ground efforts.
I support the ideas put forth by New Urbanists and the CNU. As soon as I was exposed to the ideology early in my design career, I thought it made perfect sense and explained or put words to the effects of the miserable built environments that I had experienced throughout childhood. I was a product of suburbia and at the first moment I had control of my own lifes destiny, I moved to the historic downtown area of the town where I lived. Now, that’s a whole other story, but I am especially appreciative of Jim’s background in New Urbanism. He is an expert on the subject of miserably built environments not because he studied them, but because he lived in them, as did I. The New Urbanists could take a clue from this abstraction. The architects are not necessarily the leaders or the ones that need the education, average people are the teachers and the students.
So, I’m off to join in an extended group discussion on such matters, but remember The Great Humbling — you heard it here first.