In his book Home from Nowhere: Remaking Our Everyday World for the Twenty-first Century, James Howard Kunstler outlined an issue with American urban planning. He expressed his disapproval of the zoning laws and the design tendencies that deprioritize longevity. He also proposed a set of new principles that concentrate on the neighborhood as the basic unit that is sufficient to satisfy most human needs without the need for a car. Since then, some builders began following the new guidelines, though many environments, particularly dense urban ones, continue showing the traits Kunstler criticized. This essay is a draft of a more substantial work that will describe a neighborhood close to the author’s using the passage’s definitions.
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The location is large and spacious, with wide streets and a considerable plot of land attached to each house. However, the result is that it is challenging to get anywhere on foot, as the distances between houses are somewhat large. Most residents own a car and use it to go anywhere other than visits to nearby homes. It takes more than ten minutes to walk from one edge of the neighborhood to the other, a quality that is in opposition to Kunstler’s ideas (424). With that said, most buildings are family houses with one to three floors, with no large multistory modern buildings that would ruin the aesthetic. Most are well-decorated and have front yards that are tended according to the residents’ preferences.
Most of the houses in the area have been constructed in the past 30 to 50 years, and they adhere to Kunstler’s views of the construction methods used in the U.S. after 1945 (420). The area’s residents tend to their homes diligently, but most have still manifested fundamental issues that cannot be addressed quickly. The approach can also be seen in the similarity in the construction of many buildings, though the trait may be attributed to the fact that the same construction company built most of them. Their owners have added some unique traits to each house, but upon closer inspection, it is possible to see that they have been made out of the same materials with nearly identical layouts.
The streets in the area are broad and allow for easy passage of any traffic that enters the neighborhood. As such, there is sufficient space for parallel parking on most streets, and doing so is permitted. Kunstler disapproves of the former, noting that it is too late to change the planning, and states that the latter is desirable (426). However, with the lack of pedestrians on the street, a part of the benefits of the arrangement is lost. Most houses will have a garage built into them, and so homeowners rarely have to worry about parking space while at home. However, the concentration of shops, which do not have dedicated parking lots due to their small size, on the edge of the neighborhood sometimes leads to congestion when many cars park near them.
There is little public transportation in the area, as most residents do not need it because they own cars. There are several stops throughout the neighborhood, and people use them to go on several routes out of the location. Children who ride to school and back are the most prominent users of the system, though adults and teenagers will occasionally ride the bus when their cars are unavailable. Overall, public transportation in the area is weak because it is mostly unnecessary. Kunstler disapproves of the overall arrangement, as a person needs a car and a license to be a functional member of the neighborhood (428). It is inconvenient to go out via the bus because they arrive infrequently and are mostly intended for lengthy trips.
Houses occupy the middle of the neighborhood, and all of the shops and other non-residential facilities are located at its edge or along the highway adjacent to it. Due to the size of the area, it is almost impossible for most people living there to conduct their chores on foot. Kunstler disapproves of the idea as well as of the type of housing generally constructed there (427). A homeowner association operates in the area, and most of its members are middle-class people. As such, they tend to rule that only medium-size houses may be constructed in the area and that shops and businesses should stay at the edge.
Overall, the neighborhood has initially been mostly middle-class, with a few high-class homes whose owners found the location convenient. As the houses aged over the years, and some of the residents moved out, people with lower income bought or rented some of the homes, but they try to maintain the buildings’ and plots’ appearance. The homeowner association is careful to ensure that new entrants build only moderately sized and traditionally designed houses. Kunstler’s ideas include diverse housing based on one’s income, and so the area does not match them (425). There is not much opportunity for people with lower income to move in, and wealthier families tend to prefer more affluent neighborhoods.
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Human and Aesthetic Needs
Overall, the neighborhood does not satisfy most human needs, particularly those of children. Kunstler’s notes about kids’ lack of access to various aspects of the public realm are highly appropriate to the situation (428). People do not meet and socialize on the streets, and local businesses are suppressed by the need to use a car for shopping trips. It is as easy for one to exit the highway and head to the nearby commercial strip as it is to stop at a smaller local shop. The houses in the area are somewhat attractive due to the homeowner association’s pressure, but there are no other features such as theaters, playgrounds, or parks. Furthermore, the houses are superficially attractive, but they lack little details that Kunstler claims to emerge in neighborhoods where pedestrians often walk past houses. As such, the population’s aesthetic needs are not fully satisfied, as well.
The neighborhood described in this essay matches Kunstler’s description of standard suburban America very precisely. As such, the writer would not be satisfied with it because it does not promote a high quality of public life. There are some advantages to the system, but they cannot outweigh its numerous issues. Not much has been done to change the location’s living conditions since the initial planning stage, and it remains mostly homogeneous as the houses slowly decay. The area is not suitable for small businesses, either, further forcing the residents to go to distant workplaces by car. Overall, neither human needs nor aesthetic needs, as defined by Kunstler, can be satisfied adequately by the location. However, it is going to be challenging and expensive to redesign the area to adhere to the writer’s ideas.