The Tragedy of Suburbia

Kunstler, an outspoken critic of suburban sprawl, believes the end of the fossil fuels era will soon force a return to smaller-scale, agrarian communities.


In James Howard Kunstler's view, public spaces should be inspired centers of civic life -- the physical manifestation of the common good. Instead, he argues, what we have in America is a nation of places not worth caring about. Reengineering our cities will involve more radical change than we are prepared for, he believes, but our hand will be forced by earth crises stemming from our overconsuming lifestyle. "Life in the mid-21st century," Kunstler says, "is going to be about living locally." Passionate, profane and funny, this talk will make you think about the place where you live. WATCH

James Howard Kunstler calls suburban sprawl "the greatest misallocation of resources the world has ever known." His arguments bring a new lens to urban development, drawing clear connections between physical spaces and cultural vitality.

Geography of Nowhere, published in 1993, presented a grim vision of America in decline -- a nation of cookie-cutter strip malls, vacuous city centers, and dead spaces wrought by what Kunstler calls the ethos of Happy Motoring: our society-wide dependence on the automobile.

The Long Emergency (2005) takes a hard look at energy dependency, arguing that the end of the fossil fuels era will force a return to smaller-scale, agrarian-focused communities and an overhaul of many of the most prominent and destructive features of postwar society.

His confrontational approach and propensity for doomsday scenarios make Kunstler a lightning rod for controversy and critics. But his magnificent rants are underscored with logic and his books are widely read, particularly by architectural critics and urban planners.

Other videos featuring James Howard Kunstler:

PART ONE: How the Hell Did We Get Here? (6:18)
Before trying to figure out how we’re going to get out of the oil mess we’re in, it might help to know a bit about how it all happened. Kunstler offers a casual history of the industrial experience (fossil fuel use), from the 17th century up to the modern period.
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PART TWO: Hubbert’s Curve, and Other Inconvenient Facts (8:11)
On the rise of OPEC and the turbulent 1970s—how it all happened, and what it means for us today.
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PART THREE: Reagan’s Short-Lived “Morning in America” (7:11)

On the 1980s, the 1990s, the “Jiminy Cricket” economy, and an awful lot of wishful thinking about alternative energy.
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PART FOUR: The Twilight of Wal-Mart (and Everything Else That’s Huge) (7:14)

On the symptoms of systemic failure. Without cheap oil for transport, will Wal-Mart be able to maintain its long-distance romance with China? Will FEMA even be able to answer the phone in twenty years?
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PART FIVE: Keeping the Lights On (6:06)

On facing the New Reality. We can begin to envision and to build a post-oil
“American Way of Life.” But are Americans ready? (Are they even listening?)
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