Tag Archives: United States

(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.

(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

(82) Work, weapons, wars…

On, of all days, Remembrance Day, we came across a chart of the unemployment rate for US veterans under the age of 34 (i.e. Iraq & Afghanistan).  The chart is from Business Week online but suburban-poverty.com came across it on a blog called Global Guerrillas.  The latter concerns itself with geopolitical developments and the future of armed conflict.  How do we connect all that to suburban poverty?
The author at Global Guerrillas finds much to ponder as to how this unemployment may influence domestic conditions in the United States.  Is there reason to think these unemployed individuals may act in ways that are genuinely threatening to civil society?  Will they be exploited in a semiparalyzed, financially discombobulated political arena also increasingly full of incoherence and vehemence?  Even those only moderately literate in history find the mind racing to compare this prospect to the story of Weimar Germany, the short lived parliamentary republic (1919-1933) in which German totalitariansim was born.  Add Global Guerrillas to your blog reading list as you watch this part of the way things are developing in the United States.
Global Guerrillas:
Resilient communities and networked economies.  Open source insurgency and systems disruption.

(81) Death of the liberal class [Book review]

Suburbia could be said to have been a product of liberal values like redistribution of wealth, upward mobility, technological progress, public education, a merit-based system of economic rewards and rising standards of living.  Will it then die in the unfolding of the world as seen by Chris Hedges?  It’s a grim picture dear readers.  Hedges has given us a long, well written goodbye to liberals and their institutions.  What little is left of liberal values is seen as nothing more than a mask hiding corporate power and abuse.  We are two thirds finished this book and find it so powerful we decided to waste no time recommending it.  You have to be tough to make it through this one, though.  Hedges is describing a world gone to hell.  Politics and government, the arts, war, business, mass media, education, …nothing escapes.  Moral critique at its best, truly Hedges is a super-brained, seminary-schooled, war reporting version of Michael Moore.
All the more shame to CBC pseudo-journalist Kevin O’leary for his attempt to denigrate Hedges in October during an interview about the Occupy movement.  Imagine referring to a well-educated, heavily-published, Pulitzer-winning writer with a powerful sense of morality as someone who sounds like a “left wing nut job.”

(77) Buffalo

Is it too much a statement of the obvious to cross connect the decline of manufacturing in western countries with suburban poverty?  Buffalo, NY, which is now the third poorest city in the United States, would seem to be a case in point.  An economy dominated by financial services seems to act as a vast wealth collector for the super elites.  A manufacturing economy does the same but required inputs of labour which in turn required wages be paid out to the wider community.  It could also be said that there was an integrity, a moral good to be had in making the things one uses.

Suburban plight for poor BuffaloNews.com

(73) Governing suburban poverty

American state and municipal governments have seen their finances pounded since 2007.  That’s a bad development for everyone because those are the levels of government the most number of people are the closest to.  When we read items like the one below from Governing we get a detailed sense of how tough things can be.  Again, the communication difficulties and costs associated with doing business in the suburbs make the delivery of health and social services all the more problematic.  There’s also a cultural dimension that goes underappreciated.  It seems that people with middle class assumptions often adjust poorly to hard times and lack even basic knowledge of where to go to get help when they hit the skids.
Poverty comes to the suburbs: poverty is encroaching on suburban enclaves — even the most affluent of them. Many are ill-equipped to meet the new social-service needs.