Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Facts for Fiction: The Geography of Nowhere

Since I read so much nonfiction, I'm starting a new blog feature called Facts for Fiction. It'll be about the nonfiction books I read and how they could be useful for writing. I'm not sure how frequently I'll run this feature; it'll depend on how often I read a book that's worth discussing.

The book that inspired this feature is called The Geography of Nowhere: The Rise and Decline of America's Man-Made Escape. (It's by I originally thought it was going to focus on suburbs and the psychological and social effects they have on their residents. Instead, this book is more about architecture, landscape design, and cars. The author's premise is that the promotion of the private car over public transport has not only encouraged the development of the suburbs but resulted in boring buildings and less space devoted to civic and public buildings. Our environment has been designed for cars, not people. Kunstler complains that big businesses build without considering local communities. Although he discusses quality in a way that reminds me of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, his ranty tone can be a bit off-putting at times. Still, I did find this book useful for its ideas on how to design cities for comfort--or lack of comfort. He recommends mixed-use communities that have residents of different classes, a unified style, and transitions from public to private areas. (Some of these things, such as mixed-use, are actually against the law in many areas, which only serves to keep us dependent on driving to the store for a gallon of milk. This may not be sustainable in the long run.) Still, most of this book focuses on the negative, so perhaps it might be more useful if you're planning to write a dystopia.

Have you read this book? If so, what did you think of it? What do you think of American cities and suburbs?

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