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James Howard Kunstler's View on the Future of American Cities My friend over at Cenla Education Watch sent me a link to this brilliant article concerning the future of American cities. Here's an excerpt:

I hasten to add it is a mistake to suppose that the US industrial economy has already been replaced by a so-called "information" economy or a consumer economy. In reality, manufacturing activities have been insidiously replaced over the past twenty years by a suburban-sprawl-building economy – and the mass production of suburban houses, highways, strip malls and big box stores is just a different sort of manufacturing than making hair driers and TV sets. The sprawl industry also drove a reckless debt creation racket and multiple layers of traffic in mortgages and spinoffs of mortgages (such as the derivatives trade based on bundled, securitized debt) which represents, at bottom, hallucinated wealth that in turn has spread false liquidity through the equity markets and is certain to affect them badly sooner or later. All this is what we have been calling the "housing bubble" and it is now beginning to fly apart with deadly effect. Much of the suburban real estate produced by this process is destined to lose its supposed value, both in practical and monetary terms as energy scarcities get traction. So, on top of the sheer distortions and perversities of the glut in bad mortgage paper, America will be faced with the accelerating worthlessness of the collateral – the houses, Jiffy Lubes, and office parks – as gasoline prices go up, and long commutes become untenable, and jobs along with incomes are lost, and the cost of heating houses larger than 1500 square feet becomes an insuperable burden. All this is to say that the suburban rings of our cities have poor prospects in the future. They therefore represent a massive tragic misinvestment, perhaps the greatest misallocation of resources in the history of the world. It is hard to say how this stuff might be reused or retrofitted, if at all, but some of it, perhaps a lot, may end up as a combined salvage yard and sheer ruin. Another major impact of the coming energy scarcity will be the end of industrial agriculture. Without abundant and cheap oil and gas-based fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, and fuels for running huge machines and irrigation systems, we will have to make other arrangements for feeding ourselves. Crop yields will go down – a big reason, by the way, to be skeptical of ethanol and bio-diesel alternative fuel schemes based on corn or soybean crops. We will have to grow food closer to home, on a smaller scale, probably requiring more human and even animal labor, and agriculture is likely to come closer to the center of economic life than it has within memory – at the same time that mass production homebuilding, tourism based on mass aviation, easy motoring, and a host of other obsolete activities fade into history. I think this will lead to an epochal demographic shift, a reversal of the 200-year-long trend of people moving from the farms and rural places to the big cities. Instead, I believe we will see is a substantial contraction of our cities at the same time that they densify at their cores and along their waterfronts. A preview of this can be seen in Baltimore today. The remaining viable fabric of the pre-automobile city is relatively tiny and concentrated in the old center around a complex harbor system. With little need for industrial workers, vast neighborhoods of row housing built for them are either abandoned or inhabited now only by such economically distressed people that abandonment is inevitable. The pattern of contraction may not be identical in all American cities.