I had an quick and interesting conversation yesterday with James Howard Kunstler, who won some fame and glory in the 1990s for a couple of very readable and entertaining books that were harshly critical of suburbia. Remember them? "The Geography of Nowhere" and "Home From Nowhere."
In this decade, Kunstler has become well known for his 2005 book, "The Long Emergency," which offers a pretty dark view of what we're facing in a world where oil supplies are tight.
Sunday he had an op-ed piece in The Washington Post on the theme that we're driving our cars toward disaster and that our residential living patterns have to change.
When I left him a voice mail from Sacramento, Kunstler was out walking his dog during the lunch hour in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., where he lives. I reached him later in the afternoon and asked about the state of suburbs in a time when gasoline is well above $4 and apparently still rising. He said he didn't think there would be any upturn in their real estate cycle.
"They're going down and they aren't coming back," he said. "The production home builders are going down and they aren't coming back, either."
His point has long been that our American suburbs, filled with commuters and requiring a car for almost every trip, are creations of cheap oil and only function on that premise.
"The bottom line is the suburban project is over for America. We're done," he said on the phone.
He's kind of extreme, as usual. He could be right. But I still like more of a middle ground. His idea about that, though, is there isn't one; it's all a fantasy to think we can keep living the way we do by banking on some kind of alternative energy. He's pretty cranky about that kind of thinking.
We'll see. I've read his books, some two or three times over the years, about the way our cities are built and the way we live in them. It was fun talking with him for a few minutes.