Home from Nowhere: Remaking our everyday world for the 21st century by James Howard Kunstler

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Posted 2005-04-19

People PlacesBook Notes by John December

This is a sequel to Kunstler's book Geography of Nowhere. In Home from Nowhere, the author revisits themes, tries to put them in a larger context, and provides personal background.

A strong point of this book is on tax policy (pp. 196-206). The author shows how property taxes based on structures rather than on socially-created value (which includes value accumulated on land from publicly-paid infrastructure and private human activities nearby) can lead to a less-dense city and low-quality structures. This is based on tax ideas of Henry George. In essence, when you tax structures, you get lower-quality structures and even empty lots or parking lots in central cities because the people who own these properties want to minimize their taxes. These kinds of open spaces in urbanism invite blight, lower density, and are a less engaging use of land which could potentially add so much more to the city.

Since one of Kunstler's major themes is the importance of public space, he describes how crime devalues public space (p. 49) and the use of real estate investment as a means to launder drug money (p. 217).

Kunstler revisits design concepts. He describes his concept of charm in chapter 4 to reassert beauty in architecture and urban planning: charm is a quality of place that helps people to see relationships among things and invites participation. Charm relates to Christopher Alexander's ideas. Kunstler describes his principles of civic art in chapter 5 which include the neighborhood as the fundamental unit, corridors, districts, mixed uses, density, a network of streets, and civic buildings at vista points. The author revisits New Urbanism ideas as applied in downtown Providence (p. 155), Mud Island near Memphis (p. 167), and in Corning, New York (p. 177).

Kunstler examines the misconceptions of open space advocates in urban areas. He recounts development opportunities for an empty lot on the principal downtown street located directly across from an Olmstead-designed park in Saratoga Springs, New York. A group of supposedly-educated concerned open space advocates judged that the best use for the space, which had been a great hotel adding to the life and urban fabric of the main street, would be an open space--a park across from a park (p. 236).

Kunstler includes more about his personal history including his birth town of New York City where he developed a rich appreciation for what an urban environment can offer a young person with his own ability to get around at will.

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2024-05-14 · John December · Terms © johndecember.com