Thursday, April 7, 2011

Kunstler part II

Following up on yesterday's post, my friend Mike sent me this video of James Howard Kunstler's TED talk from 2004. If you don't know Kunstler it's a great intro. If you're already a fan, you'll remember why. A few brilliant laugh out loud lines, woven into his trademark deconstruction of the American Way. At least, our Way of building places and spaces over the last few generations.

What do his urbanism concepts have to do with bikes? I'd argue 'everything'. Bicycling goes hand in hand with the holistic world we create, or more precisely, the world we choose to live in. The world of, say, the pre-1960s naturally gave birth to a cycling mindset that today we might refer to as citizen cycling but then was just cycling.

Today, what North Americans typically think of as normal biking - faster, longer distances, hunched over, often with recreation or sport in mind, wearing specialized clothing and gear - was born of our very different world. People live farther apart, farther from work, in a more fractured and sprawling physical landscape, with time only on the weekends to ride for exercise or sport.

I always say biking is not just about bikes. In fact I actually don't care much about bikes themselves or biking per se as most people think of it these days. I care about cities, and the quality of life that a well-designed built landscape creates. A humane landscape that, incidentally, not only allows for more civilized biking but encourages it. Bikes, like birds or butterflies or good cafes or people walking around in a relaxed way, are a result, a symptom - when you see more bikes around, and people look happy, not grim, riding them, it means your city or town is doing many things right in creating a vibrant and harmonious human environment.

I happen to believe that a massive increase in biking - meaning getting non-bikers to consider getting on a bike - would cure a lot of what ails us. I think promoting the citizen cycling model is a good way to do that.

Better biking > better cities. Better cities > better biking (Copenhagen has a lot of bikes because it's a great city, and is a great city, in part, because it has a lot of bikes).

And no one is more about better cities than James Kunstler.


  1. I loved Geography of Nowhere and agreed with most all of the points he made in it. I can't help but think that he's a bit too much of a blowhard- though *our* blowhard. Sometimes it's easier to point out what is wrong, than to offer solutions to make it right. I see more of the former from him. For a perspective on how to make it right, I suggest checking out Jan Gehl at the National Building Museum tonight.

  2. Very cool, thanks for the heads up. I'm tempted to go. It's that or work on taxes... ;).