Monday, April 28, 2008

Where will people of the city go in the world made by hand?

Rural like mural on side of urban like apartment building.

Author James Howard Kunstler was recently interviewed on KUOW Radio about his novel titled "World Made By Hand."

Set after cheap oil basically runs out, the novel is about a future vision of society that's largely agrarian. People growing their own food in upstate New York.

Is this the life that follows our current world of suburban sprawl, interstate highways, box stores and Disnyworlds?

I doubt it, or at least I wonder what will happen to the people in places like New York City where there isn't that much land per person to grow food?

It's true that America's suburbs have a lot of problems. Over dependency on the automobile, encroachment on natural habitat, the list is endless, but part of what has driven suburban growth is nostalgia for a lost rural America.

Would Kunstler's "grow your own" vision just add to that nostalgia force for dumping more people into sensitive rural environments?

Suburbs provided the best of both worlds. Modern amenities, but still space for a garden, possibly even a horse. Some folks moved there so they could grow their own food, after collapse of society which has been predicted ever since I can remember, but hasn't happened so far.

It's time to retrofit our suburbs so they work more like the urban centers. The suburbs don't seem to be going away.

Now days, many are drawn to the suburbs by economics. They can't afford to live anywhere else. As traffic and other dysfunctional aspects of suburban life gets worse, the suburbs become less desirable and less expensive than urban settings.

"Less expensive" becomes their appeal.

In Kunstler's vision of a more agrarian society, I wonder what will happen to the urban dwellers who aren't currently spread out across the land and don't have access to soil. Rooftop gardens and vacant lots can help, but it's not enough.

Maybe I should write a "post cheap oil" novel.

My vision would be more recognizable to current American society, but consumption wouldn't be at such an extreme as it is in today's society. Taking the train more often, instead of flying, for instance.

Kunstler, himself, is a big fan of the railroad even though he seems to be flying all over the country promoting his book. While flying from one "book signing" to the next, he comments on the dismal state of America's airlines battered with rising fuel costs. He even suggests a future where electric power isn't even available so most of our high tech toys become trash.

From one extreme world to the next. Today's consumerism all the way back to the 18th century.

I'd say, "if we can have enough technology, organization and energy to run the train, we'll have enough electricity to run the Internet."

Trains can actually be quite impressive, technologically. Internet connections on board. GPS telling when the next train arrives. Good food on board.

It's true that air travel takes a lot more energy per passenger mile than railroads. Unless we can magically harness something like nuclear power and create some sort of hydrogen fuel, air travel is likely to remain in decline.

Maybe I should write a novel.

In my world, the suburbs would be retrofitted into denser, more urban worlds.

Automobiles would be rare while walking and bicycling would be the rage.

Public health would improve. People would be slimmer and sexier, in my opinion.

Public transit would be just about everywhere.

More trains and less planes.

Lifestyles would be less consumer oriented and more bohemian in nature. Folks would have more free time for artistic and cultural activities while living in modest spaces.

Automation could remain, but the human workweek becomes shorter.

"Work less, consume less, live more fully."

Percentage of the population raising families with kids would be smaller, but the fewer kids would inherit a friendlier somewhat quieter world. Eventually a less crowded world.

There would still be the kind of technology that doesn't use lots of energy. High tech electronics for the most part.

Food production would change to some extent, but most people would still shop for their food rather than grow it. Some folks would live on farms, but there would have to be quite a few farmland preservation rules.

Diets would become simpler in my post cheap oil world. Hopefully, people wouldn't be quite as obese as so many of today's folks are. Food from distant parts of the world would become somewhat more expensive, but it could still be available. Much of it would arrive in "sail assisted" cargo ships. Rooftop gardening would become popular, where roofs are strong enough to hold up the weight.

My vision of the world would kind of be like riding the train. Meeting lots of new friends in the dining car who marvel at how much friendlier people are on the train than on a plane.

I haven't had occasion to fly since the early 1980s. Haven't had any book tours with tight schedules.

Maybe I should write a novel.

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