(94) Demolition Man: UBC’s Bill Rees on sustainability

Bill Rees is a Canadian academic from the University of British Columbia’s School of Community and Regional Planning.  Here he gives a deft and noteless lecture weighted with facts on the ground.  Rees is all over the changing context of urbanization, technology, consumption, sustainability, and energy.  Apparently what North Americans have come to think of as normal is really the single most anomalous moment in all of human history.  Cutesy ideas like green consumerism, hybrid SUVs, green architecture and biofuels don’t last long in front of scientist Rees.  Short term profit in the run-up to complete catastrophe have distorted our reality so much it looks like we can’t change in time.  None of this means wealth and happiness for humans, suburban or otherwise.  Boy, it gets depressing maintaining your own meta-blog some times.  No wonder people drink.

(93) Empire of Scrounge & Happy Neo Year

One of our interns was riding their bike in a suburban area last spring and scored this virtually unused, clean-as-a-whistle, one-of-a-kind wooden horse – from a garbage pile!  We made sure it joined a life list of items found thusly and passed on to urchins and unfortunates.  Each time we hear about, or, better yet, participate in one of these little reversals of the waste/consumer ethos it gladdens our hearts here at suburban-poverty.com and gives us hope.  It also reminds us of Texas academic Jeff Ferrell and his book (and blog) Empire of Scrounge.

Mr. Ferrell was faced with a lull in his career as a sociologist/criminologist and took to dumpster diving and trash picking on a bike to keep his observation and analytical skills sharp, save money and find cool shit.  Empire of Scrounge is the title of the book that came out of the first part of Mr Ferrell’s adventures and the blog serves to update his ongoing adventures.  Great stuff, well reccomended to our own readership when we consider the venue at hand.  Dallas-Fort Worth is possibly one of this continent’s most serious examples of sprawled, super-suburbanization.  It’s population density is only about half that of the Greater Toronto Area, for example.

Often, we are dismissed (sometimes even by ourselves) as doomer wannabes full of pessimism 0with little to offer in the way of solutions.  Well, the editor hasn’t gotten his social services worker diploma just yet so this kind of practical, hands-on, exploratory, two-wheeled excellence will have to do for now.  Links below, and seriously, have a safe, prosperous, resiliency-enhancing 2012.

Empire of Scrounge

Trespass, Trash & Train

(92) KunstlerCast: Conversations With James Howard Kunstler [Book review]

Some say that if there is a future historical record much of this age, the internet age, will simply not be included in it. Digital material can develop serious shelf life and readability issues after just a few years.  That’s a worry because the internet, is now the home to much of the intellectual content we make use of.  In the particular case of podcasting a lot of wonderful material is found “out there” and nowhere else, particularly the alternative, non-mainstream, non-status quo voices.

The KunstlerCast, a weekly offering featuring James Howard Kunstler, is one such voice.  He’s an American public intellectual and social critic with a powerful angle on all things suburban.  The digital evaporation of the KunstlerCast’s sharpness, sarcasm and wise counsel would be more than just a personal thing for his audience, it would be something of a cultural tragedy.

Almost from its inception we’ve been listening to the KunstlerCast and loving it.  The dry humour and conversational enjoyability enhances a tasty demolition job on the American automotive/suburban complex, a version of which we built in this country.   Each week, host Duncan Crary sets up Jim Kunstler with a topical angle on where the hell life in North America is going with all its consumerism, its massive energy requirements, car dependence, cul-de-sac houses by the zillion, the ageing strip malls, its completely whacked economics and  increasingly questionable popular culture. It’s rarely ever pretty.

Now, there’s a book based on the podcasts. It may help bring the wit and wisdom out to a wider audience and preserve it for the future.  Both truly worthy things!

Buy this one, okay!  It’s only $16.95 in Canada, a bit less in the States.  You get eight side-bar loaded chapters on “the tragic comedy of urban sprawl.”  There’s also notes and an index and a set of quirky chapter headers by comic artist Ken Avidor.  The latter appear to have been created in an archaic style with a hollow cylinder held in the hand which transfers a sort of wet toner to paper allowing the artist to stain a picture onto the paper by themselves without a computer at all. Imagine that!  One more thing to recommend this three-hundred-and-twenty-page gem of Duncan Crary’s.  Exactly the type of thing one could read on a local light rail vehicle, or a Euro-styled high speed train, gawd, even a kinda-medium speed train would be a nice venue for appreciating this book.

The conversational tone and good naturedness of the KunstlerCast, on the air and on paper, often belie the serious nature of the topics at hand.  Above all, Kunstler calls for a renewed, and closer, relationship with reality in the great republic to our south.  Which has been acting like a demented, addicted rock star for decades now, squandering its wealth and talent on decadent insanities like brutalist city halls, starchitecture, wars in the Middle East and megamalls where there were once fields of corn.

This book should matter to our readers because we cannot understand or alleviate suburban poverty until we know the structure of suburbia as well as the economics that exist there.  The KunstlerCast helps out with this understanding.  Crary has included a subsection of Chapter 6 called Concentrating Poverty where many of suburban-poverty.com’s lines of thought are expounded on.

The conversational tone is so welcome. This is like talking with friends, intellectual cousins.  When I was reading KunstlerCast it felt a bit like David Byrne’s 2009 book Bicycle Diairies wherein the artist relates his explorations on two wheels of some of the world’s major cities.  No sooner had this thought occurred to me than I came across a line in which Crary makes a reference to the Talking Heads song Nothing But Flowers.

I don’t know about you but I love little moments of cross connection like that one.  They are like the feeling one gets in the public places that Kunstler and Crary advocate, the healthy, walkable, finely detailed, organic, cohesive, localized and self-respecting communities that have become too hard to find and which we need to rediscover.  I bet if we could make that rediscovery suburban poverty would stop growing, might even be the part of the now we lose.

For more on the book & podcast click here.

(91) Manhattan-on-Thames

Recent policy changes in and around London, England are seen by some to represent the system ‘taking the gloves off’, so to speak, in regard to who gets what and lives where.  To some extent these policy changes probably just formally represent changes and desires that have been on the books and in the hearts of decision makers for some time.  If you are on the receiving end it may mot much matter from whence it all comes, this latest effort at reordering the UK’s capital, long the seat of extreme differences in income and standard of living.  These items linked below would appear to describe a bold-faced, formal, legalistic and economic effort to move the lower orders away from central/high prestige areas.

Council cuts: the Manhattanisation of central London  Guardian

Housing benefit cuts: Tory flagship prepares to give 5,000 households their marching orders Guardian

(90) Near poor

More new terminology for social exclusion and social difficulty derived from developments seen in the last US census.  Under conventional thinking about markets, employment, investment, and standards of living the near poor would only be there temporarily.  Given the sheer scale of disaster in the US and global economies it is hard to see that as anything other than magical thinking.  Time to start building resilient communities.  Time for responding to reality rather than mythology or politics.  It may be that there is a new 21st century technological schema waiting in the wings, a miraculous arrangement of far out science fictions of clean energy and easy money.  What comfort that may be to the near poor in the face of any more bad news in terms of gas prices, employment, international conflict remains to be seen, it may make Christmas all the more poignant this year!
Older, Suburban and Struggling, ‘Near Poor’ Startle the Census NYT

(89) In England, commuting can be a real riot

It strikes us as unexpected, ironic to have come across an article in the media in which ‘commute’ and ‘riot’ are in the same sentence.  We also recently came across a seriously intriguing animated map referring to recent riots in England.  The map plots home address and location of charges laid against rioters.  It’s quite something to see just how far indviduals travel to participate in rioting.  London tended be a convoluted mass of locations and journeys reflecting its existence as a massive agglomeration of suburbs and centres packed close together.  In secondary cities the edge-to-centre pattern of journeys to riot are very distinct.  We don’t think it’s a stretch to say that the use of a motor vehicle is indicated by many of these movements.  Incredible really to think of people going out of their way, quite literally, to get in on destructive, anti-social behaviour in the centre of the communities they live in or near.  The obvious metaphor is a biological one: spermatozoa journeying to ovum.  What to make of one young man who paid a hundred pounds to alter the return date on his airplane ticket, preferring, apparently, to riot than vacation.
England “riot commute” mapped Guardian

(88) Fuel poverty

Fuel poverty is a relatively new phrase, one belonging squarely to the era of global recession, roller coaster energy prices, energy-related financial speculation and certainly the drawing down of easy-to-get sources of fossil fuels.  We’ll probably be getting used to it.  The UK seems to have acknowledged it more fully than Canada or the United States.  When pay freezes, it seems the body soon follows.
Fuel poverty affects a quarter of UK’s households as bills soar and pay freezes
Guardian

(86) Wages in Canada

This weekend in the mass media in Canada there will be tons of worthless human interest bullshit about those whacky, maxxed out Americans going nuts, getting pepper sprayed and trampled to death storming strip malls for Black Friday bargoons.  Getting less attention will be fresh Statistics Canada data showing the failure of wages in Canada to keep up with inflation.  Considering wages have been sliding in real terms in this country since the 1970s we have to ask who the idiots really are.  Happy Thanksgiving America!
Wages not keeping up with cost of living Halifax Chronicle Herald