The journalist James Howard Kunstler is a supporter of the new urbanism, which promotes various civic amenities, such as walkable neighborhoods and a new sense of community feeling. More than that, this movement actively resists urban sprawl, which is considered to have a negative impact on the environment in the neighborhoods. That is why Kunstler claims that modern American towns and cities lack respect for the public realm, which he regards as the real-world sign of the common good. This paper touches upon the key concepts and terms, which Kunstler concerns, and provides an analysis of their essence and interconnections.
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The word neighborhood is one of the most frequent in “The Public Realm and the Common Good.” The repetition of this term is interesting as it describes the “basic unit” (Kunstler 424). Each neighborhood can present a separate village or a city. Furthermore, if several neighborhoods are united, a big city appears. However, it is worth mentioning that each neighborhood is divided into two parts – the center and the edge. Hence, the author highlights the importance of the neighborhoods as a basis for creating the high-quality realm and the common good.
More than that, Kuntsler describes some other definite features, the first of them is the size of a neighborhood. According to the author, it “is defined as a five-minute walk (or quarter-mile) from the edge to the center, thus a ten-minute walk from the edge to the edge, or half a mile” (424). Thus, these areas are relatively small, which provides them with some essential advantages described in the next paragraph. Secondly, automobiles are allowed there, but citizens’ needs are prioritized. The fact that people’s interests are put in the first place results in the increased availability of public transport.
Due to the small size of neighborhoods, people have the opportunity to enjoy the beauty of facades, gardens, and shop windows while walking down the street. This, in turn, promotes various benefits from “the support of local institutions to the physical caretaking of the street” (Kunstler 424). According to Kunstler, neighborhoods are the framework for developing the habitable public realm for several reasons, most of which are presented in the previous paragraph (425). The basic idea that the author dwells on is that they provide citizens with the necessary infrastructure and allows feeling “more completely human” (Kunstler 425). This phenomenon can be explained by the fact that due to the small size and beautiful decoration of the neighborhoods, citizens are immersed in a friendly environment. Moreover, the availability of public transport and other public goods also improves the atmosphere, as people feel this care and experience more positive emotions. That is why he singles out this term and explains it in such a detailed manner.
The most important strand is the negative attitude to the current state of the public realm in America. Kunstler tries to assure readers that most American towns and cities “have become dismal” (Kunstler 417). What is more, he highlights that the new suburban areas are dismal in their own way. He believes that some critical infrastructure, such as the highway lanes, the shopping malls, and the office parks, that binds neighborhoods together, is “degraded, incoherent, ugly and meaningless” (Kunstler 417). Therefore, the author stresses the necessity to gentrify not only cities and towns but also suburban areas around them.
Historically, Americans have a negative attitude towards the public realm as, since the end of World War II, the majority of them have moved into the suburban sprawl, which lacks some critical civic amenities. That is why they are dissatisfied with this situation, which is a warning sign because the public sphere is “a physical manifestation of the common good” (Kunstler 419). When people degrade the public realm, as the Americans have done, they degrade the common good.
The negative consequences of such an attitude can be exemplified by infrastructure development. The author believes that “our homes, commercial and civil buildings are built with the full confidence that they will disintegrate in a few decades” (Kunstler 420). Different social facilities, such as schools, libraries, and hospitals, are not expected to last until the end of a human’s life. Furthermore, people seem not to care about unity with nature as they have technical advances, which help to minimize problems with weather or light. These behavior patterns are likely to diminish people spiritually, impoverish them socially, and degrade the cultural patterns that are, in fact, our civilization.
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The most interesting binary in “The Public Realm and the Common Good” is consumer versus citizen, as these are two critical roles, which people play in their everyday lives. The balance between them can influence the quality of the public realm and the common good. When people play the role of citizens, they are more eager to address different social problems and clashes of interest, as they understand their responsibility for creating and maintaining a healthy environment inside their neighborhood.
However, because of the technological development and the emergence of a consumer society, the role of consumers has become prevalent. The most significant difference between the roles is that, according to the author, “consumers, unlike citizens, have no responsibilities, obligations or duties to anything larger than their own needs and desires” (Kunstler 419). This statement demonstrates that people nowadays are reluctant to address crucial social problems, which are, actually, problems of the public realm and the common good, and they seek only to satisfy their own demands.
In “The Public Realm and the Common Good,” the journalist James Howard Kunstler presents his arguments for the lack of “the public realm” and “the common good” in the United States of America. Several points have been given to support his thought-provoking ideas. He addresses the issue of the public realm degradation through social, political, and psychological problems. The US population no longer behaves as citizens but consumers, so, there has been a loss of exemplary behavior. As for the political aspect, poor urban infrastructure and environment lead to reducing investments in public works and discontinuities.
Psychologically, the poor have a pessimistic outlook, which can be changed by setting up actual services to help them out. More than that, Kunstler makes it clear that it would be better to reconsider the interconnectedness between “chronological connectivity”, the common good, and “citizenship” so that the USA can improve its modern communities. As for “consumers”, according to the author, they must reaffirm their values and principles and reclaim their role as “citizens”. Finally, Kunstler believes that the key to happiness in any country or city depends on public realm development. Its absence in the communities may result in dangerous consequences for citizens and the well-being of the whole state or city.