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Behold, the promotional image for the 2023 EcoCity World Summit, to be held in London next year. The simpleminded idiocy in play befits a foundering civilization incapable of realistically imagining its future. As usual with shallow eco-urbanism, sociopolitical conditions are assumed to be exactly the same years ahead as they are now. Daily life is portrayed as a perpetual coffee break in an orderly milieu.

Get this: urban life will be anything but orderly in the future. London will not be a city of cafe layabouts diddling on their phones. It will be desperately attempting to cope — and perhaps failing to — with social disorder, economic collapse, ethnic conflict, and political paralysis.

The sole idea depicted above is the “greening-up” of the street and its buildings. Plant life is imagined to be the sovereign remedy for all the ills of imploding modernity. It represents nature in its most inert and unthreatening form. It just sits there softening the hard-scape. In fact, nature is rather cruel, including human nature. How much of London’s thirty-two boroughs, thousands of streets, and  671 square miles will get this treatment? Or will it be limited to a few special streets like the one in the picture, for the remaining toffs who have somehow escaped the wrath of the plebes?

How do you propose to marshal the army of gardeners needed for the maintenance of all these plantings? Will it employ half the population of London — the ones replaced by robots and artificial intelligence in all the other jobs? Do you see how silly this is? And how pathetically limited our collective imagination is?

What it comes down to is an inability to face the eco-truth: namely, that our great cities have exceeded a scale that comports with the realities of the future — resource and capital scarcity — and that they cannot be made sustainable in anything like their current form.  These mega-cities have to contract substantially and severely and the process will be pretty hideous, including massive losses in real estate value, battles over who gets to inhabit what’s left, and awesome decay in the abandoned districts. Virtually all of the oversized infrastructure will be un-maintainable — skyscrapers, megastructures, the Underground transit system, gas, water, and sewage service. Decorating the streets and buildings with “parsley” will not come close to solving any of this. By the way, who owns the sole car in the picture? And why is it not standing forlornly on its rims with the windows shattered and the interior torched?


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About James Howard Kunstler

View all posts by James Howard Kunstler
James Howard Kunstler is the author of many books including (non-fiction) The Geography of Nowhere, The City in Mind: Notes on the Urban Condition, Home from Nowhere, The Long Emergency and the four-book series of World Made By Hand novels, set in a post economic crash American future. His most recent book is Living in the Long Emergency; Global Crisis, the Failure of the Futurists, and the Early Adapters Who Are Showing Us the Way Forward. Jim lives on a homestead in Washington County, New. York, where he tends his garden and communes with his chickens.

27 Responses to “February 2022” Subscribe

  1. DanandMary February 2, 2022 at 5:16 pm #

    Loved the last sentence. You’re one funny f-ck.

    • Paul February 3, 2022 at 8:19 am #

      The ‘car’ depicted might not be a vehicle anymore; it may have been adaptively-repurposed for use as a propagation greenhouse. It’s parked in the shade on the South side of the street in the pic, because its seasonal work is done, so it’s being stored there until next Winter when it’ll be rolled across to the North side of the street where it will start catching limited daily sun about March 1st. each year.

      Speaking of derelict vehicles, I’ve got my eye on a derelict 1990 Ford Taurus Station Wagon that has been parked about halfway down a neighbour’s long driveway for at least the past 6 years. It’ll make a dandy propagation house for someone. With the engine & tranny removed it shouldn’t be too hard to wheel-around the plot, pushed by a few strong youngsters, or even towed by a donkey or a mule!

      • holdfastspike February 4, 2022 at 1:32 am #

        if you remove the humans from this picture it will more accurately depict what an abandoned city will look like after everyone is dead.

  2. Zoltar February 2, 2022 at 5:22 pm #

    I wondered about that car, too.

    After all these years virtually all of my friends and associates still shake their head at my peculiar notion that things will not continue as they were in some idealized past – or that, in fact, they already have not.

    No-one deigns to notice the rising floodwaters until they personally are submerged.

  3. chopper February 2, 2022 at 6:17 pm #

    Whom ever said this was right on the money “The biggest mistake people make, over and over, is to believe tomorrow will be just like today”. There will be a thinning of our population, in part, based on failure to see or hear this train of change comming down the tracks. They are just too damn comfortable to think any big change is credible.

  4. maxdid99 February 2, 2022 at 6:48 pm #

    the car looks suspiciously like a Tesla… maybe the battery was stolen and they pawned the lithium

    or it auto-drove itself there

  5. Freddie February 2, 2022 at 9:42 pm #

    A vision from someone who has never maintained even a modest rural/suburban property and garden.
    What an absolute nightmare…..a vertical garden! A plain vanilla horizontal garden is a daunting amount of physical labor. Gardeners alone would never be sufficient to tame that cityscape. Expensive specialized equipment would be necessary, too.

  6. dowd February 3, 2022 at 2:55 am #

    Agree. The future of big cities can be seen now: Detroit. After the apocalypse a semi-farm community.
    Motown to Growtown: Detroit’s Urban Farming Revolution
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I_7rzoFzV08

  7. tucsonspur February 3, 2022 at 5:53 am #

    What’s really bad is the eye following those green pathways towards the center of the image and then seeing that mangled muddle in the middle around St. Paul’s Cathedral.

    ‘The sole idea depicted above is the “greening-up” of the street and its buildings. Plant life is imagined to be the sovereign remedy for all the ills of imploding modernity. It represents nature in its most inert and unthreatening form. It just sits there softening the hard-scape. In fact, nature is rather cruel, including human nature.’

    I don’t see it that way, Jim. Nothing wrong with softening the hardscape, and I guess plant life could be ‘imagined’ to be the sovereign remedy of imploding modernity by those given to unattainable dreams and silly ideas.

    Of course, nature can be cruel, but plants usually aren’t except maybe for poison ivy and such. Looks like these here have been quite nice for some time, there to enjoy.

    Appears to be a narrow street and the car is stopped for pedestrians. Like all the others, it’s a Dinocar but doesn’t know it yet.

    You are absolutely right, as usual, about the coming future realities that these mega-cities will face, but we’re not going back to the garden, or to much smaller scale manageability any time soon. The Die-Centennial will definitely put us there however, and that ugly clock really says quarter to the apocalypse.

    Looks like some restaurants on the left flank, and some fish & chips would go great in that park like setting.

    Maybe those planters hold some sage, rosemary and thyme to go with that ‘parsley’. Is the Scarborough fair nearby?

  8. Chris at Fernglade Farm February 3, 2022 at 6:10 am #

    Hi Jim,

    As someone who has had to remove ivy from a building, I am no fan of that future shown in the image. Buildings and plants were never meant to be that closely entwined and ivy is tough enough that it can even over a long period of time slowly wedge apart brick work and/or carpentry. And can you imagine the sheer volume of spiders lurking in that greenery? No thanks, it seems like a good idea, but yeah, nah. Anyway, the spiders would have to come for the humans and their pets because from what I observe of the city nearest to me – there are few if any insects. And what is worse, nobody seems to notice that lack.

    Cheers

    Chris

  9. tom clark February 3, 2022 at 4:11 pm #

    Our great cities have indeed exceeded a reality that comports with the future. Meanwhile, no rot, ANYWHERE! Hey, a guy’s gotta make a living, right?

  10. Chippenhook February 3, 2022 at 5:34 pm #

    Such places as depicted might well be part of urban landscapes in the future, but only for a select few. Security and walls will keep out the masses. It’ll be the urban equivalent of gated communities where the rabble need not apply.

  11. lizharmon February 4, 2022 at 9:30 am #

    The car is merely an attempt by the anticar leftie artist to show that ze is not anticar.

  12. gusgus2022 February 5, 2022 at 4:32 am #

    I would understand this if most citys resembled Bergen or Oslo,but most are out of control depressing nightmares ,
    It’s like Los Angeles ,there are roads which have not been paved since at least the late 50s ,they still have red line tracks ,there are crazy bums yelling in the street ,the traffic is out of control
    The planters are urinals for the bums ,Trains derail from trash ,there are people carrying chickens on the subway
    So what’s the city do?
    Let’s spend millions on turning the LA river back to nature …..even though they paved it for millions to prevent flooding

    I feel like I am taking CRAZY pills ,

  13. Wxtwxtr February 5, 2022 at 8:18 pm #

    And I thought that was from The History Channel – Life After People:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pAoM909LuLE

  14. spikedpsycho February 6, 2022 at 2:14 pm #

    kunztler spent 20 years soothsaying societal collapse at behest of petroleum depletion, now he chalks it up to technonarcisim oh and now brown people…..As long as human civilization survives, there will always be a place for cities, but that doesn’t mean they have to be as dense as Manhattan’s 70,000 people per square mile, New York City’s 27,000 per square mile, or even Seattle’s 7,000 per square mile. Nor will they need downtown skyscrapers or suburban midrises. To paraphrase architect Louis Kahn, planners should let the city be what it wants to be and limit their job to making sure it works as efficiently and effectively for its residents as possible.

    “First life, then spaces, then buildings – the other way around never works.”
    Architect Jan Gehl…..

    • JackStraw February 8, 2022 at 7:08 am #

      You’ve certainly given yourself an appropriate moniker. Gehl was probably involved in this image somehow, and you’ve been sent to defend the “architect”.

      Can you find yourself in the picture? I’m betting you’re the friendless dude sporting women’s capri pants.

      • spikedpsycho February 10, 2022 at 5:20 pm #

        Every time I hear some slaver parrot “for the greater good,” I’m reminded of a scene from Hot Fuzz.

        A circle of people are discovered in a secret underground lair by the protagonist – torches held beneath their chins and black hoods covering half their faces. They nod at each other repeatedly chanting “the greater good!” after confessing to murdering half the village to win the coveted “Village of the Year” award. Their addiction to perfection and rules created a superficially idyllic, but ultimately violent hell.

  15. JTinMD February 9, 2022 at 10:20 am #

    Good stuff, Mr K! I enjoy this feature and only wish it was more frequent.

    How ‘bout the mom pushing her kid into the path of a cyclist? BOOM! Nice.

  16. Ishabaka February 10, 2022 at 12:09 pm #

    From time to time I watch YouTube videos put up by “CharlieBo313”, an intrepid Black man who drives through what he calls the worst ghettos in the USA, often interviewing the denizens. No need to wait for the future – ghettoized Detroit looks just like the artist’s rendering, with vegetation taking over block after block of formerly decent blue and white collar neighborhoods. I keep expecting to see a moose or wolf, returned to their home territory after 250 years.

  17. Jo-G February 11, 2022 at 3:12 pm #

    When I saw the car and bike path I thought the painting would be just as realistic and more interesting if the artist had substituted a canal and Venetian gondola for the road and bike path. When I live in apartments I try to grow plants. They usually look sick.

  18. spikedpsycho February 12, 2022 at 10:50 pm #

    So we live in such a hellhole that growing a tree is counterculture enough it counts as “punk”? That’s incredibly depressing.

  19. badberries February 15, 2022 at 9:55 am #

    Uhhhh, must not have any mosquitos in London because that’s a perfect “skeeter breeder” street scape in these parts. Maybe a 4:00 a.m. helicopter with a tankful of Permethrin?

  20. BackRowHeckler February 21, 2022 at 12:30 pm #

    Take a look at Johannesburg and Capetown if you want to see what the urban future looks like. It took only 3 decades to reach a state of total collapse.

  21. bymitch February 24, 2022 at 12:58 am #

    I guess it’s interesting, on a certain level, to bring two mutually exclusive exclusive things into close contact.
    A bit like smothering ketchup on icecream.
    Some of us can process this in theory, but it seems that many have to take things further to form an opinion.
    Unfortunately a visual analysis often comes up short, as in this case.
    They paved paradise to put up a parking lot?

  22. JCalvertNUK February 25, 2022 at 8:57 pm #

    Some of that vegetation looks suspiciously like ivy.
    Ivy is a destroyer of walls.
    I have some vines on my house. They need to be carefully managed or they could become a fire hazard.

  23. krodrich February 27, 2022 at 3:58 pm #

    We lived in Muskegon, MI for 25 years before escaping to Phoenix. We came for the traffic and monumental homeless encampments that are now encroaching on the high rent districts here – Scottsdale and Paradise Valley.

    Muskegon spent millions on urbanization to include a failed mall (was great until the dealers, pimps and gang bangers took it over). NY money came and went. Detroit money came and went. Federal & state money poured in and we got some very impressive new lighting. But the blight spread until about 5 years ago.

    We got a visionary with deep pockets from Grand Rapids named Jon Rooks who engaged city planners in some Imagineering and commitment as partners vs. adversaries. He urged them to tear down the unrepairable and refurb the stuff with good bones. This past year a non-profit with even deeper pockets showed up and entered into a partnership with the city to repurpose the Hackley School, later the Board of Education building with occupied a city block and had stood since the lumber baron era at the turn of the 19th to 20th century.

    Their vision is sound but we have not determined what they plan to do about the next gen gangs who graduated from intimidating looks and walking 5 abreast to rival gangs with automatic weapons doing drive by shootings in Muskegon Heights (a city within the city) in broad daylight.

    All the new infrastructure and moderate cost housing has lured many back in from the hustings, and the millennials love the downtown scene. But I fear that when the erstwhile disenfranchised crews rediscover downtown, there may be some culture clash that could ruin it all.

    I’m not so worried about ivy on the side of our library as I am about 5 thugs in a low rider opening fire on a crowd of free “Party in the Park” concertgoers because a rival gang member is there with them.