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Podthoughts: The KunstlerCast

Vital stats:
Format: interview-conversations about “the tragic comedy of suburban sprawl”
Episode duration: 12m-1h20m
Frequency: weekly

Suburbia sucks, and ever-rising energy prices will soon destroy it. There you have the collected ideas, in caricature, of self-styled public intellectual James Howard Kunstler. For twenty years, he’s worked the city-planning, architecture, transit and urbanism/New Urbanism beats, territory where self-styled public intellectuals have been known to tread. Perhaps you’ve read the work of activist-journalist Jane Jacobs, to whom Kunstler often gets compared. When her 1961 book The Death and Life of Great American Cities grew famous and influential, the caricature of her ideas developed as follows: modernist urban planning (i.e., freeways and function separation) sucks, and if you let it happen, it will soon destroy you. These caricatures fail to convey the depth and nuance of Jacobs and Kunstler’s writing, as caricatures do. Alas, it seems that public intellectuals, especially self-styled ones, pay the price of caricaturization to find purchase in the zeitgeist.

If you wish to know more about precisely why Kunstler thinks suburbia sucks, allow me to suggest The KunstlerCast [iTunes] [RSS]. Taking a more unusual form than it might at first seem, the podcast presents a weekly conversation — more formal than a two-sided gab session, but looser than an interview — between Kunstler and co-host Duncan Crary. Aside from the occasional field trip to real streets and malls and such, each episode has Crary asking Kunstler for his thoughts on a certain subject, be it a city he’s recently visited like, say, Portland [MP3]; the work of another urbanist like, say, Jane Jacobs [MP3]; or even the very definition terms as basic as “urban” [MP3]. This may sound a tad technical or academic, but Kunstler, neither an academic nor a technician, seems constitutionally unsuited to letting conversations go dry. The man comes armed with judgments, often swift and harsh, about which cities he finds livable, which cities he finds hellish, and which cities he feels certain that energy crises will simply sweep away.

Read the whole thing at Maximum Fun.

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