James Howard Kunstler, a New York-based author and social critic known for his 1994 book The Geography of Nowhere, articles in The Atlantic Monthly, the New York Times and elsewhere, as well as TED lectures on suburbia, urban development and “the global oil predicament,” has lowered the boom on Orange County's most-planned city.
Bend over and take it like a man, Irvine!
The Irvine Co.'s master planned capital comes up after Kunstler rants for three opening paragraphs on the lack of leadership these days.
I can especially understand this after being in a particular part of the USA for three days last week: Orange County, California, specifically the fiasco known as Irvine. This so-called “city” was once a ranch comprising hundreds of thousands of acres consolidated out of old Spanish land grants by one James Irvine, an Irish immigrant who made a fortune selling groceries and dry goods during the California Gold Rush and parlayed it into real estate–including eventually the nearly 200-square-mile tract of creosote bush and sagebrush forty-odd miles south of nascent Los Angeles. The so-called city named after Mr. Irvine–and still largely controlled by a private real estate development company he founded–prides itself on being rationally planned. By this they mean that all the angles have been figured out for producing massive volumes of exquisitely-tuned suburban sprawl at a nice profit.
One thing this demonstrates is that rational planning is not the same thing as intelligence because the end result on-the-ground is a nightmare of the most extreme car dependency in the nation, arguably even worse than Los Angeles. That it is also a nightmare of crushing uniformity, disconnection, boredom, and ennui probably matters less because the essence of the place's character is that it has no future. There is absolutely no way that the American people can continue their Happy Motoring frolic for another generation, yet the Irvine Company is still busy slapping together new monocultures of housing pods, strip malls, and all the other usual furnishings with the kind of stupid confidence of people intoxicated on Rotary Club bullshit–which is to say zeal minus consciousness. It is the same frame-of-mind that produces the famous Orange County right wing politics.
Orange County, and places like it, represent a tremendous tragic problem for this country. They were the products of emergent economic forces that humans only pretended to control with their vaunted rational planning. They almost certainly cannot be fixed. They're too big and the money won't be there; it's the essence of our predicament that capital formation is crippled and that situation will only get worse.These places will enter a state of widespread crisis within the next ten years, and possibly much sooner. The people who live there will see their property lose all its value, and then they will have to make choices about where to move to. In the process, they will dig in their heels, cause an immense amount of political mischief, and eventually lose anyway.
On the bright side … uh … scratch that: Mr. Kunstler sees no bright side here.
Keith Shirey posted the entire piece on For the Left.
Matt Coker has been engaging, enraging and entertaining readers of newspapers, magazines and websites for decades. He spent the first 13 years of his career in journalism at daily newspapers before “graduating” to OC Weekly in 1995 as the paper’s first calendar editor. He went on to be managing editor, executive editor and is now senior staff writer.