Tuesday, December 19, 2006

George Bailey's Not So Wonderful Life

James Howard Kunstler thinks the greatest waste of time, investment, and resources in the history of mankind occurred shortly after WWII with the contruction in America of suburbs and our auto-dependent way of life. As he writes, "American suburbia represents the greatest misallocation of resources in the history of the world."

This particular Howard agrees.

In his latest weekly blog installment of Clusterfuck Nation, Kunstler, author of Home From Nowhere and The Long Emergency, writes about the wonderful film It's A Wonderful Life and how backwards its message was about the progressive evolution of towns.

In his preamble, Kunstler writes:
It's a Wonderful Life, Frank Capra's 1946 Christmas card to America, is full of strange and bitter lessons about who we were and who we have become. It also illustrates the perversity of history -- the fact that things sometimes end up the opposite of the way we expect.
He then goes on to make his case:
Here's the weird part though. The main business of Bailey Building and Loan was financing the first new suburban subdivisions of the automobile age. In one of the movie's major set pieces, George Bailey opens Bailey Park, a tract of car-dependent cookie-cutter bungalows, and turns over the keys to the first house to the Italian immigrant Martini family. Had the story continued beyond 1946 into, say, the 1980s, (with George Bailey now a doddering Florida golfer), we would have seen the American landscape ravaged by suburban development, and the main street towns like Bedford Falls gutted and left for dead. That was the perverse outcome of George Bailey's good intentions.
Kunstler then shows how our contemporary reality of residential life in America has become Bailey Park, but with largely few of the values exemplified by George Bailey:
Now the weirdest thing is that Pottersville is depicted as a busy, bustling, lively place -- the exact opposite of what main streets all over America really became, thanks to George Bailey's efforts -- a wilderness of surface parking, from sea to shining sea, with WalMart waiting on the edge of every town like Moloch poised to inhale the last remaining vapors of America's morale. Frank Capra could imagine vibrant small towns turning their vibrancy in the direction of vice -- but he couldn't imagine them forsaken and abandoned, with the shop fronts boarded up and the sidewalks empty, which was the true tragic destiny of all the Bedford Falls in our nation.
If interested, you can read the entire essay -- December 18th, Not So Wonderful -- here. If you haven't read Kunstler before, there are a lot of new and possibly confusing concepts being introduced in his essay about the urban/suburban development patterns over the past 60 years. If interested, you should read one of his books -- any one really since he explains his premises in all of them. The man has been accused of being a crank, but he's also a first-rate thinker who consistently makes his case.

6 Comments:

Blogger SueJ said...

That's spooky - I remember thinking that yea, there was no *real* reason to believe that Our Hero's town wouldn't end up looking like Pottersville anyway, and that many folks would consider Pottersville a "success."
Worth remembering that a primary reason for the movie's popularity is (I think! not a movie buff here) its low royalties.
I had posted a comment with reference to my sainted mother who'd had fits of guffaws at the idea of a tie, since "if you're going to be the noble soul you've been claiming to be, you're going to have to do it!" and suggested we meet 8000 on the Solstice... but I fear it got lost in cyberspace. (And there I was, trying to reciprocate the vulnerability of posting where I couldn't edit it; after all, you posted in public!)
But... as you said, the weather would decide, and you've got 2-4 inches in your forecast. Better get out and RIDE today!!! I know I am :)

9:43 AM, December 19, 2006  
Blogger HRlaughed said...

Howard saw your original suggestion posted elsewhere and agrees. Come today, Howard's actions will speak louder than his words. And, come to think of it, his words seem to come out pretty loud too. Stay tuned then...

10:49 AM, December 19, 2006  
Blogger SueJ said...

Looking forward to pictures! I have to notice that *your* pathways provide improvements over crossing tracks and highways, whereas ours don't (oops, I guess I *did* take reasonable pictures of that on my blog... http://www.resourceroom.net/pcc/countryfairpath/ ... but perhaps you've seen it and were subtly referring to it, as has been known to happen... )

3:33 PM, December 19, 2006  
Blogger HRlaughed said...

Nope, didn't see your pics yet. But will. Howard occasionally comes up with ideas all on his own. Infrequently.

8:00 PM, December 19, 2006  
Blogger HRlaughed said...

Nice scary, intimidating, confusing photos, suej.

The bike path system through Fort Collins includes the Poudre River Trail, the Spring Creek Trail, the Mason Street Trail, the Power Line trail, the Cathy Fromme Prairie Trail, and the Fossil Creek Trail. (Howard's probably forgetting a couple, but these are the biggies.) They total something like 30 miles and directly cross car or train traffic at exactly seven spots (four of them on the Mason Street Trail.) All other intersections, including river crossings, are bike path bridges or underpasses.

The City of Fort Collins is a cycling Mecca and has been for 25 years.

8:12 PM, December 19, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

George Bailey is getting beat up out here. First he gets blamed for urban sprawl, then held up as an example of communist propaganda by the FBI.

Not such a wonderful life afterall! ;)

1:35 AM, December 25, 2006  

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