A Small American City

A Small American City


A Small American City is a new podcast from James Howard Kunstler’s protege Duncan Crary.  Accord to the website, the project “aims to re-acquaint listeners with small city life in North America through the voices, stories, history and urban fabric of his home city of Troy, New York.”

For those of you that aren’t familiar with Kunstler, his angle is that we’re approaching a period of oil and capital scarcity that will make our current suburban-centric living arrangement impractical.   He doesn’t believe that we’ll have some miracle Star Trek technology that will save the day.   A lot of his writing has to do with urban planning and he’s really in to the idea of smaller cities and villages with walkable communities with natural features like good farmland in the surrounding area and navigable rivers.  I highly recommend checking out some of his books for his take on what he believes is in store for us.   He has some fiction books like A World Made By Hand that give some insight into the consequences of some of the problems we face right now.   I have several of his books in the Amazon store under “politics/society”.   A lot of what he has to say isn’t pleasant, but he’s raising a lot of questions that need to be addressed.  Crary comes from a similar mindset as Kunstler and believes that Troy, NY is well-positioned for the future as a small city on the Hudson River with classic architecture from a period when buildings were made to last and designed for pedestrians, not automobiles.

No offense to Troy, but I’ve never thought much of it.   I wouldn’t expect the average Trojan to have put much thought into Des Moines, either.    I wouldn’t listen to a podcast from the Troy Chamber of Commerce telling me the selling points of the city every week, but Crary’s podcast uses Troy as a template to discuss broader issues of sustainability, urban planning, community life and localism.    Right now most of us live in a world where we go to work for a large corporation to earn money to buy things from China and pay bankers in New York, come home to a home in a neighborhood that looks like every other home in every other neighborhood all around the country, eat food from halfway across the world, get on the internet and argue with some guy in Florida about what they’re doing in Washington then entertain ourselves with TV shows from Los Angeles or sports in some far away city.   Then we wonder why so many people feel disconnected from reality and alienated from everyone around them.   Would there be so many mental health problems in the country if people had vibrant communities that they felt connected to around them instead of holing up to consume mass-marketed media and entertainment?

So far I think it’s entertaining.   There’s been a couple of guests so far with ancedotes about their experiences around the city and although the show sounds well-polished, it does have the aura of sitting around a barstool and listening to two dudes talking.   He said he’s going to have some interviews with inland sailors, which I think will be interesting.  Kunstler believes that someday in the near future our inland waterways will become important again due to oil scarcity and rust-belt places like Troy on the Hudson and the Great Lakes region could become more desirable.   I used to go to Duluth, MN (largest inland port in the US) and I always thought the nautical culture there was pretty cool and watching the barges come in Lake Superior.

The idea of the show really got me thinking about Des Moines, where I live.   I like it here and I think Des Moines has a lot going for it.   It’s bigger than Troy (about 200,000 to Troy’s 60,000) but it’s definitely geared towards automobiles.   There aren’t many parts of the city that would be ideal for pedestrians as things are right now.

Culturally, people from Des Moines always seem to be comparing our city to our neighbors (Minneapolis, Omaha, KC) and throwing around the “for a city this size…” qualifier.   On the “Shit People From Des Moines Say” video I got a chuckle out of the frequent use of “per capita”.  It’s true.    We’re kind of awkward size – not really big enough to be a big city but not small enough to settle for small city status.   It leads to a chip-on-the-shoulder mentality, but sometimes that makes this city ambitious.   I’ll admit that I have that mentality and throw around per capita’s and for-a-city-this-sizes with the rest of them.    When it comes down to it, it seems like as a city we’re more interested in trying to be a scaled down version of somewhere else instead of just existing as we are and letting things take their course.    We’re probably better off focusing on what we like to do, who we are, what we produce and what comes naturally to us as a city instead of wanting a bunch of those cool, unique fusion resturants with one word names just like they have everywhere else in the developed world.    Hell, they even designated a part of town to be an entertainment/pedestrian shopping district and called it the “East Village” instead of something truly indigenous to the area.

I know I’m guilty of tuning out my surroundings in order to partake in something global/national.   It’s Friday night and I’m blogging about a podcast about a city halfway across the country.   I’d like to see a larger trend towards localism and regionalism and I suppose if I want to see that, I should start with myself and do more around here.

Anyways, I recommend at least checking out the first episode which is a little more broad in subject matter if you’re not interested in hearing the in’s and out’s of life in Troy.   I would like to see Crary maybe branch out and interview some people that live in other similar cities around the country.