James Howard Kunstler on Landscape Urbanism
James Howard Kunstler published the following in Orion Magazine:
"The mandarin headquarters of Modernist ideology, Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design, having gone to war with the New Urbanist movement, is now pushing a dubious new practice they call “Landscape Urbanism.” Don’t be fooled again. Under the fashionable “green” rubric, it’s another version of “nature” as the default remedy for cities, a rejection of genuine urban form. Landscape Urbanism affects to be concerned with site planning, but it displays a complete lack of interest in the basic components of urban design: street and block systems. Instead, it incorporates lots of high tech “magic” infrastructure for directing water flows and requires massive, costly, complex site interventions that amount to little more than art stunts. Landscape Urbanism is explicitly against density and vehemently pro-automobile. In effect, it’s just super high-tech suburbia. It’s designed mainly to generate big fees for site-planning firms while it does nothing to prepare this society for a post-oil economy. Naturally, it comes with heaps of opaque theory, designed to mystify and impress the non-elect.
Harvard has been battling the New Urbanists for two decades on the grounds that traditional urban design is insufficiently avant-garde, intellectually unadventurous, backward-looking, lacking in sex appeal, un-ironic, square. But the USA doesn’t need more architectural fashion statements or art stunts. It needs places to live that are worth caring about and compatible with the capital and material resources that we can expect to retain going forward, which are liable to fewer and scarcer than what we’ve gotten used to. The USA doesn’t need any more mendacious ideologies meant to confound the public about the operation of cities and the things in them so that star-architects can appear to be wizards.
The USA does need a body of principle and skill that will allow us to assemble places with a future, and the New Urbanists have retrieved this information from the dumpster of history – where it was carelessly tossed by two generations in thrall to the phantom of limitless expansion. They recognize the resource limits we are now up against and the threats posed by climate change. They’re keenly aware of the need to re-integrate local food production into the landscape in an appropriate relationship with the places where people live. They’re the only group of design professionals on the scene right now who are capable of delivering a vision of the future that is consistent with the reality of the future."
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