Revenge of the ‘burbs

James Howard Kunstler sees the end of sprawl in high gas prices.

James Howard Kunstler sees the end of sprawl in high gas prices.

In his earlier books, The Geography of Nowhere: The Rise and Decline of America’s Man-Made Landscape and Home from Nowhere: Remaking Our Everyday World for the 21st Century, sprawl critic James Howard Kunstler laid out how Americans in the postwar years turned their landscape into one long strip mall. Long story short: In the last half-century, the world’s richest, most powerful nation destroyed the infrastructure of local economies by subsidizing far-flung suburbs.

Now, both on the lecture circuit and in a forthcoming book, Kunstler takes the next step, forecasting economic ruin when the whole house of unleaded and asphalt comes crashing down. In other words, suburbia is untenable. That’s the sobering message Kunstler brings to Sacramento on Thursday, June 17, as the guest speaker at the Sacramento Old City Association’s 30th annual architectural awards.

Kunstler, a Saratoga Springs, N.Y., resident who also writes novels and a funny, sharp-tongued blog called Clusterfuck Nation (at, is not one of those gas-tank-is-half-full kind of guys. Soon, our lifestyle will catch up with us, he believes, and we’ll have no choice but to start living locally—especially when the price of gas goes up and doesn’t come down again.

“We are getting close to a kind of tipping point,” Kunstler said, predicting a shift back from Wal-Mart to Main Street in which Americans will be required to adopt less-auto-centric habits. “The energy problems this country faces are going to change everything with the way we live.”

It’s a hard message to hear, and the issues are still faraway concepts to many. “Much of the public thinks we’ll keep living the way we do,” Kunstler said, though he sees an end to those long commutes to the hazy edge of the tract-home frontier.

Oh, and hydrogen’s promise of salvation? “A dangerous fantasy,” Kunstler prophesized. “There’s not going to be a hydrogen economy.”