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"That Was Then, This Is Now"

Tyler Durden's picture




 

Submitted by James H Kunstler of Kunstler.com,

I was in Buffalo, New York, over the weekend at the annual conclave of New Urbanists — a movement started in the 1990s to rescue American towns and cities. The scale of desolation of that city is not as spectacular or vast as Detroit’s, but the visible symptoms of the illness are the same. One of the events was a bicycle tour of Buffalo’s neglected East Side, where maybe 80 percent of the houses are gone and the few that remain stand amid spring wildflower meadows and the human density per acre appears too low even for successful drug-selling.

The old economy is gone and is replaced now by a “social services economy,” meaning government checks, SNAP cards, and purposelessness. There were zero signs of commerce there block after block, not even a place to buy potato chips. So, as it works out, the few remaining denizens of this place must spend half their waking hours journeying to a food store. How they make that journey is hard to tell. There were almost no cars anywhere nor buses to be seen. Before long surely the people will all be gone, too, ending a chapter in American urban history.

At one edge of the East Side neighborhood stood the hulking, gigantic remnants of the Larkin soap company, a haunted brick behemoth plangent with silence, ailanthus trees sprouting from the parapets and birds nesting in the gigantic, rusted ventilation fans. The administration building of this deeply paternalistic company was famously designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, completed in 1906, and demolished in 1950 — a blink of an eye. It is considered the architect’s lost masterpiece. The site became a parking lot and now is just an empty asphalt pad with mulleins and sumacs spiking up in the pavement.

At its height of success a hundred years ago, the Larkin Company provided a stupendous bounty of social support services for its 4,500 employees: a dental office at nominal prices, dedicated rooms at local hospitals, an on-premises branch of the city library, subsidized night school classes, gyms, lounges, sports clubs, a credit union, insurance plans, and more. The people could ride streetcars all over the “Electric City,” as Buffalo styled itself because of its fortunate proximity to the bonanza of hydro power from Niagara Falls.

A hundred years ago, Buffalo was widely regarded as the city of the future. The boon of electrification made it the Silicon Valley of its day. It was among the top ten US cities in population and wealth. It’s steel industry was second to Pittsburgh and for a while it was second to Detroit in cars. Now, nobody seems to know what Buffalo might become, if anything. It will be especially interesting when the suburban matrix around it enters its own inevitable cycle of abandonment.

I’m convinced that the Great Lakes region will be at the center of an internally-focused North American economy when the hallucination of oil-powered globalism dissolves. Places like Buffalo, Cleveland, and Detroit will have a new life, but not at the scale of the twentieth century. On this bike tour the other day, I rode awhile beside a woman who spends all her spare time photographing industrial ruins. She was serenely adamant that the world will never see anything like that era and its artifacts again. I tend to agree. We cannot grok the stupendous specialness of the past century, and certainly not the fact that it is bygone for good.

When people use the term “post-industrial” these days, they don’t really mean it, and, more mysteriously, they don’t know that they don’t mean it. They expect complex, organized, high-powered industry to still be here, only in a new form. They almost always seem to imply (or so I infer) that we can remain “modern” by moving beyond the old smoke and clanking machinery into a nirvana of computer-printed reality. I doubt that we can maintain the complex supply chains of our dwindling material resources and run all those computer operations — even if we can still manage to get some electricity from Niagara Falls.

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Mon, 06/09/2014 - 13:14 | 4837481 DoChenRollingBearing
DoChenRollingBearing's picture

How perfect that Bitcoin comes along now then.

Actually BTC might do a lot of good.

Mon, 06/09/2014 - 13:16 | 4837495 -.-
-.-'s picture

BTC...hmmm

Mon, 06/09/2014 - 13:26 | 4837540 pods
pods's picture

Buffalo, Cleveland and Detroilet are certainly going to be great again.  Just not in any of our lifetimes.

The last to leave are the ones who make it impossible for others to move back in and make the places habitable again.

Sorry folks, that is just how it works. Those with the means and desire to make a successful city have already been driven out of those places.

They sure as hell aren't coming back before the worst of the worst are gone.

pods

Mon, 06/09/2014 - 13:36 | 4837579 cougar_w
cougar_w's picture

You have made an important point.

Allow me to suggest only that the same reality didn't save the native Americans. The moment someone noticed the natives were not properly utilizing a valuable resource, those people died.

If someone wants the land near the water in any of those places -- because as history shows there is money to be had -- they'll round up the undesirables and put them on a prison train to Arizona. Or simply shoot them and let them lay were they fall.

And that is all there will be to that.

Mon, 06/09/2014 - 14:07 | 4837585 hedgeless_horseman
hedgeless_horseman's picture

 

 

"I’m convinced that the Great Lakes region will be at the center of an internally-focused North American economy when the hallucination of oil-powered globalism dissolves."

lol...more like center of an internally-focused North American melt-down.

Despite Harry Reid and his NIMBY politics regarding safely storing our nation's nuclear waste in Yucca Mountain, instead of in elevated swimming pools on-site at every plant in the USA (just like Fukushima)?  Come on, JHK, you're the one hallucinating!  Are you letting your liberal bent get in the way of clear thinking?  Without oil power those nuclear sites would be cooled and maintained by what?  They would be environmental disasters, just as you fictionally portrayed with DC being nuked in your WMBH books, but not because of a terrorist bomb...because of a terrorist senator.

Today, the fate of the Yucca Mountain project has never been clearer. President Obama and his Administration have made it clear that Yucca Mountain is not a workable option. The Yucca Mountain project no longer receives any federal funding, the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Yucca Mountain project office has been closed, and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has discontinued its review of the application to begin construction at Yucca Mountain.

 

http://www.reid.senate.gov/issues/yucca

Mon, 06/09/2014 - 14:18 | 4837778 ZerOhead
ZerOhead's picture

The dangers to present and future populations imposed by aging and undermaintained nuclear power plants is soooo overstated that since Fukushima they actually raised the safe limits to radiation exposure by factors of one hundred to one thousand.

Scientific solutions to unsolvable problems like these are amazingly adaptable (and cheaper) that way.

Besides... Buffalo and Detroit are actually great geographic locations with some still standing architectural gems and are well worth saving

Mon, 06/09/2014 - 14:18 | 4837794 insanelysane
insanelysane's picture

The map doesn't show where they store the waste from all those reactors.  I am think the waste is stored in areas that don't have a red ring.

Mon, 06/09/2014 - 14:18 | 4837795 insanelysane
insanelysane's picture

The map doesn't show where they store the waste from all those reactors.  I am think the waste is stored in areas that don't have a red ring.

Mon, 06/09/2014 - 14:28 | 4837828 Marco
Marco's picture

That's a stupid juxtaposition, you don't want to tranport waste which is actually dangerous if cooling is lost nor would you want to store it all in one place.

Nuclear waste pools are an inherent feature of current reactor designs (or a bug if you prefer, but not one which can be fixed for those reactors).

Mon, 06/09/2014 - 14:40 | 4837870 hedgeless_horseman
hedgeless_horseman's picture

 

 

...you don't want to tranport waste which is actually dangerous if cooling is lost nor would you want to store it all in one place.

Yes, I do!  Especially when the calculated risk of storing it in one particular place deep underground is several orders of magnitude less than storing it in elevated swimming pools near every major population center in the nation. 

The transportation argument is such a red herring.  Transport it now, while the world is relatively sane, versus trying to transport it later when things are much less sane.

Mon, 06/09/2014 - 14:42 | 4837908 ZerOhead
ZerOhead's picture

No time like the present to get things that should be done done.

Investment in protecting the domestic power grid from a potential solar EMP event would be just as high on my list of priorities.

Mon, 06/09/2014 - 15:44 | 4838195 BuddyEffed
BuddyEffed's picture

I believe that it is transported in casks that are pert near collision proof, even with a train.  Current transport shouldn't be an issue.

Mon, 06/09/2014 - 14:43 | 4837913 cougar_w
cougar_w's picture

JHK happens to be right on this one.

Radiation is invisible. Nobody will understand what is happening. They'll just go on doing what people do and if there is something killing them slowly they'll never connect the dots.

And right there is your solution to the problem of disposal of nuclear waste: you just keep poeple stupid.

Mon, 06/09/2014 - 15:51 | 4838221 BuddyEffed
BuddyEffed's picture

Excessive background levels and biologically concentrated ingested doses could make long to mature animals challenged to get to the reproductive stage.  If that occurs, your golden parachutes out there may only make a difference for a few generation/mutation cycles.

Mon, 06/09/2014 - 16:02 | 4838274 Rusty Nayle
Mon, 06/09/2014 - 18:42 | 4838806 malek
malek's picture

Uh, yeah - your map conveniently forgot the other reactors such as in subs or ships, plus all the Minuteman silos etc. which also have material that could get spread in certain types of accidents.

Mon, 06/09/2014 - 13:48 | 4837635 inky
inky's picture

@pods

"The last to leave are the ones who make it impossible for others to move back in and make the places habitable again."

Then the the most worrying thing about that is = where will these undesirables then move too :o

Mon, 06/09/2014 - 14:31 | 4837856 cougar_w
cougar_w's picture

A: shallow graves.

Mon, 06/09/2014 - 16:21 | 4838350 Monty Burns
Monty Burns's picture

Buffalo, Cleveland and Detroilet are certainly going to be great again.

 

But not with the current demographic profile.  But it's not polite to talk about the elephant in the room.

Mon, 06/09/2014 - 17:38 | 4838618 Baldrick
Baldrick's picture

Trade continues during and after a collapse. The great lakes region has tens of thousands of sailboats owned by people who know the waters. The denizens in certain areas will be dealth with by armed crew members.

Mon, 06/09/2014 - 13:35 | 4837564 Hongcha
Hongcha's picture

"I’m convinced that the Great Lakes region will be at the center of an internally-focused North American economy when the hallucination of oil-powered globalism dissolves."

That's the first time I have heard this from Kunstler or anyone.  Very interesting.  I wonder what his thesis is based upon.

You want a bad trip - try this:  This decline can continue for decades.  We have a lot of coal and a lot of slag oil or whatever they call it.  We will burn every BTU out of the soil until none is left for our grandchilden, who will curse our names.  In any ancient culture, to incur the hatred of future generations would be considered absolute catastrophe.  This (Western) generation is ruled by insect brains and so heredity is not considered to matter.  Amerikan kulture  deserves to be consigned to the compost of history.

Mon, 06/09/2014 - 13:35 | 4837575 Uncle Remus
Uncle Remus's picture

Think waterway.

Mon, 06/09/2014 - 13:40 | 4837601 cougar_w
cougar_w's picture

Access to shipping and trade routes, always a winner. Virtually all of the great cities from any age on any continent were associated either with sheltered ports, on large rivers where those could be crossed by bridges, or at important inland crossroads.

The only problem now is that sea level changes are going to change the shorelines and river outlets. But that is just a contingent fact and does not change the outcome that great cities will usually be located in strategic places usually near important bodies of water.

Mon, 06/09/2014 - 13:56 | 4837626 CrashisOptimistic
CrashisOptimistic's picture

Good call.  Canals transport whatever transports.

But I object to the phrasing of it being the center of an internally based economy.  This implies those magical, comfortable perspectives around the word "transition".

There isn't going to be anything gentle and comfortable and **adjustable**.  There is going to be widespread, rampant death and this remnant economy referred to in the phrasing will be supporting 100 people, which will be all that is left in that area, scratching in the rubble and riding canoes down canals to wherever the next salt lick can be found.

The gentle transition folks all rely on "the govt will allocate the oil to food transport".  The first day Fort Worth is told to ship beef to NY while there are some empty beef shelves in Fort Worth is the day the gov't's allocation falls apart.  Then we'll see how Buffalo does with no food.

Mon, 06/09/2014 - 16:11 | 4838315 BuddyEffed
BuddyEffed's picture

Transportation will be the old indian way, by foot and canoe and horse mostly, with maybe the sole great benefit of the industrial age being the adoption of the covered wagon technology.

Mon, 06/09/2014 - 13:42 | 4837605 TrumpXVI
TrumpXVI's picture

The above copy left out the last paragraph of the original essay, which follows:

"In my forthcoming novel A History of the Future (third installment of the World Made By Handseries), two of my characters journey to Buffalo a couple of decades from now. They find a town with its back turned to abandoned monuments of the industrial age. All the action is on the Lake Erie waterfront where trade is conducted by sailing ships at the scale of Sixteenth century, but with an identifiable American gloss. I’d be surprised if one in a thousand educated people in this country (including the New Urbanists) can take that vision seriously. But do you suppose that the executives of an enterprise like the Larkin Company in 1915 would have ever imagined the desolation of Buffalo a mere 99 years later?" - JHK

Mon, 06/09/2014 - 13:52 | 4837636 NOTaREALmerican
NOTaREALmerican's picture

Re:  couple of decades from now

I love Kunstler's doom, but like most doomers wishing for a return to some idealistic "past", he tends to shorten the timeframe of his fantasies way too much. 

Before we get to sailing ships on Lake Erie again, we've got to have a really cool war with the Chinese AND Europeans AND South Americans,  and (actually) the rest of the world FIRST.      

Lake Erie won't exactly be the same after that glorious war.

Mon, 06/09/2014 - 14:12 | 4837772 cougar_w
cougar_w's picture

There will probably never again be a trans-oceanic war of any size or duration. The combination of too many nukes with too little oil has driven a stake in the heart of modern mechanized warfare at scale.

But get ready for the local gangs, Chinese or otherwise, to take over. There will never be a shortage of thugs wielding machetes.

Mon, 06/09/2014 - 13:42 | 4837610 Panafrican Funk...
Panafrican Funktron Robot's picture

I agree with him, but probably not for the reasons he's basing his assessment on.  Two words:

 

Fresh.

Water.

Mon, 06/09/2014 - 13:50 | 4837643 Flakmeister
Flakmeister's picture

Think fresh water, among other things...

Mon, 06/09/2014 - 13:50 | 4837645 Flakmeister
Flakmeister's picture

Is there an echo in here??

Mon, 06/09/2014 - 14:44 | 4837922 cossack55
cossack55's picture

I have not heard one person curse the former Easter Islanders nor the Greenland Norse.  It is possible I'm not in the correct zip code.

Mon, 06/09/2014 - 15:17 | 4838059 Uncle Remus
Uncle Remus's picture

They don't vote.

Mon, 06/09/2014 - 15:13 | 4838046 JRobby
JRobby's picture

Insect Brain of Minraud

Mon, 06/09/2014 - 17:03 | 4838468 Hongcha
Hongcha's picture

"They do not have what they call “emotion’s oxygen” in the atmosphere. The medium in which animal life breathes is not in that soulless place — Yellow plains under white hot blue sky — Metal cities controlled by The Elders who are heads in bottles — Fastest brains preserved forever — Only form of immortality open to the Insect People of Minraud — An intricate bureaucracy wired to the control brains directs all movement — Even so there is a devious underground operating through telepathic misdirection and camouflage — The partisans make recordings ahead in time and leave the recordings to be picked up by control stations while they are free for a few seconds to organize underground activities — Largely the underground is made up of adventurers who intend to outthink and displace the present heads — There has been one revolution in the history of Minraud — Purges are constant — Fallen heads destroyed in The Ovens and replaced with others faster and sharper to evolve more total weapons ..."  WSB

Mon, 06/09/2014 - 13:57 | 4837681 Magnix
Magnix's picture

No, you got it all wrong! Its GOLD stupid!

Mon, 06/09/2014 - 17:08 | 4838539 rbg81
rbg81's picture

I doubt that we can maintain the complex supply chains of our dwindling material resources and run all those computer operations — even if we can still manage to get some electricity from Niagara Falls.

Huh?  It is just me, or is the author very confused.  While some parts of our society are collapsing, we are not going into some new Dark Age.  We produce stuff in far more variety, complexity and volume than we did in the last century.  Just not in places like Buffalo or Detroit.  And our supply chains are more sophisticated too.  Thanks to computers and software.

The problems with Detroit were demographic.  The problem with Buffalo is that its a cold shithole that few want to live in anymore (like most of upstate NY).  There ARE places where people want to live and those are doing fine.  Austin, TX comes to mind.

 

Mon, 06/09/2014 - 19:38 | 4838957 K-Dog
K-Dog's picture

No it is not the author it is you.

"We produce stuff in far more variety, complexity and volume than we did in the last century.  Just not in places like Buffalo or Detroit.  And our supply chains are more sophisticated too.  Thanks to computers and software."

It does not matter how cool or complicated the stuff we make is it still takes energy to make it and when it is gone the fat lady sings.  That you would mention volume at the same time as cool or complicated tells me you are unaware of natural limits to growth. 

Bacteria on a petri dish can watch their own population grow and be proud of achievements.  At the peak of their growth the variety, complexity and volume might amaze and intoxicate.  A meme will infect the dish so any cell questioning the dish's great achivements will be considered crazy.  Crazy right up to the point the resources on the dish are half gone.

Supply chains are more sophisticated but that is not a good thing.  It means those supply chains are more energy dependent fragile and expensive but technical narcissism keeps this fact from being appreciated, recognized, or discussed at any level.

We are going into a new dark age but as the idea isn't very popular people prefer to claim otherwise.

Mon, 06/09/2014 - 20:33 | 4839122 rbg81
rbg81's picture

Oh, the old "bacteria in a petri dish" analogy.  Well, the big difference between bacteria and humans is that humans can innovate.  We can use other sources of energy and/or make our existing technology more efficient.  And if oil becomes too expensive that is exactly what we will do.

Tue, 06/10/2014 - 16:16 | 4841823 Flakmeister
Flakmeister's picture

You remind me of the turkey 2 days before Thanksgiving....

Mon, 06/09/2014 - 17:08 | 4838540 rbg81
rbg81's picture

!!

Mon, 06/09/2014 - 20:49 | 4839169 Exponere Mendaces
Exponere Mendaces's picture

@DoChenRollingBearing

Interesting, you generally get lots of green arrows. I guess the fundamental bias against freeing ourselves from the legacy financial system is strong here for them to give you red.

Doesn't surprise me, if they aren't preparing for the end of the world (and by extension, having a growing desire to prove their investments are correct), they are cast-offs or active participants in the system that has them by the neck.

Hell, even Knukles admitted that his past work history was slinging financial products. (I'm not surprised, given his glib comments, almost as if he's extracted his pound of flesh and doesn't care about anyone other than himself anymore.)

There are others, of course, all too close to the spinning wheel of financialization, slapping on some more grease on the works as the relentless machine decimates millions in the name of "growth" and "alpha".

Some wait for the world to burn, and others actually do something about it.

Mon, 06/09/2014 - 13:14 | 4837486 Colonel Klink
Colonel Klink's picture

My purpose is to enjoy my life as much as possible while not contibuting to the government largess and social theft of tax dollars.

 

Mon, 06/09/2014 - 13:16 | 4837493 DoChenRollingBearing
DoChenRollingBearing's picture

How excellently put, poetic even, let my + 1 be the first of many...

Mon, 06/09/2014 - 13:17 | 4837500 Colonel Klink
Colonel Klink's picture

Grassy-ass!

Mon, 06/09/2014 - 13:29 | 4837541 ParkAveFlasher
ParkAveFlasher's picture

Taxation is only the key to the chains of fiat slavery.  If you were not extorted by needing to pay Uncle Sam in his own terms (his own currency), there would be no demand for them.  When you hear that "your tax dollars are being diverted towards welfare programs", you are being deceived.  The only reason you pay tax in dollars is to enforce usage of them by necessitating demand and denominating the calculation of tax obligation in only its own dollar terms.  Taxes are not payable in real goods and value-added services.  Imagine being an accountant and paying your taxes by doing government service a few weeks out of the year.  Fancy that.  Real obligations paid via exchange of real value.  That would be a grain of reality that collapses the entire illusion.

Mon, 06/09/2014 - 13:36 | 4837578 Uncle Remus
Uncle Remus's picture

So, there is no spoon then.

Mon, 06/09/2014 - 13:40 | 4837600 ParkAveFlasher
ParkAveFlasher's picture

There is indeed a spoon, and you are force-fed with it.

Mon, 06/09/2014 - 15:19 | 4838064 Uncle Remus
Uncle Remus's picture

It's an abstract.

Mon, 06/09/2014 - 15:15 | 4838051 JRobby
JRobby's picture

No self respecting accountant with any integrity would work for this fraud government.

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