On Space and Place

I have come across a very interesting book with the title “The Geography of Nowhere” by author James Howard Kunstler (subtitle “The Rise and Decline of America’s Man-made Landscape,” publisher Simon & Schuster).  The book was first published in 1993 so it is not brand new; nor does the author pretend to present a global perspective — sticking to what he knows best, i.e., the United States.  But within those limitations (which are not exactly minor, I realize), he presents very strong historical and descriptive information and views of the placelessness of so much geography in the culture of the United States.  Many of his points are in agreement with those presented in Chapter 3 of my book.

Kunstler gives us an astounding statistic near the beginning of the book —  that eighty percent of everything ever built in “America” (Kunstler’s term for the United States) has been built since the end of World War II.  I have no idea how that statistic has changed since publication of the book in 1993, but it seems an amazing fact.  He describes the everyday environment of most Americans as a “tragic landscape of highway strips, parking lots, housing tracts, mega-malls, junked cities, and ravaged countryside.”  He mourns the loss of “coherent communities” and their replacement with cities that are “dead zones” and countryside that is a wasteland of cars and blacktop.

The concepts of place and community brought forward — expressed in the author’s forceful language and metaphors — are strongly related to our occupational concepts of social participation and the everyday environment.  Kunstler says that our landscape today is one of “scary places, the geography of nowhere” and one that has “simply ceased to be a credible human habitat.”  Whether or not this view of the geography of the United States can be applied to other parts of the world is an open question — and one that is interesting to think about.

This book is a very good read.  You might feel that the author at times overstates his views; nevertheless, for me, I felt he was championing issues that continue to need to be made visible and addressed in order that we human beings can carry out the meaningful everyday occupation that is in our nature to do.

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