Stephen Karlson (shkarlson) wrote in 50bookchallenge,
Stephen Karlson

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The farther we get from The America that Worked(TM), that era from the victorious conclusion of World War II to the introduction of the Great Society and the Counterculture, the more do critics of the established order recognize that What Came After is not Better.  Thus is the message of Suburban Nation: The Rise of Sprawl and the Decline of The American Dream.  For Book Review No. 7, I suggest that readers get beyond the Usual Pieties and the Obligatory Sneering Tone and contemplate the message the authors, by profession architects, art historians, and town planners, have about the value of the good of the intellect.  (For the regional policy stuff, the book covers much of the same ground as topics raised here (in 2004) or here (also 2004) or here (2006) or here (2011) or here (2013) or here (2013).  I often wish that practitioners of the planning arts would give more thought to unanticipated and unintended consequences of planning in practice, including land-use plans and zoning codes.  But when the authors note that bad ideas have consequences, specifically, on page 213 noting,

In response to their growing sense of insignificance, some architects have tried to regain a sense of power through what can best be described as mysticism.  By importing arcane ideas from unrelated disciplines -- such as contemporary French literary theory (now outdated) -- by developing illegible techniques of representation, and by shrouding their work in inscrutable jargon, designers are creating increasingly smaller realms of communication, in order that they might inhabit a domain in which they possess some degree of control.  Nowhere is this crisis more evident than in the most prestigious architecture schools.

When I post about the idiocy of culture-studies and other academic fads, it's cathartic.  When practitioners bemoan the self-marginalization of their discipline, it's encouraging.  Even if suburbanization might be emergent in a way not easily tamed by zoning codes or taxes or high-end seminars.

(Cross-posted to Cold Spring Shops.)

Tags: academic, cultural studies, current events

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