"A Great Deal Of American Suburbia Will Have To Be Abandoned"

Authored by James Howard Kunstler via Kunstler.com,

As the empire deliquesces into a fetid slurry of economic failure, we stand ankle deep in the rising swamp waters witnessing the futile battle of the giants, Walmart and Amazon.

Neil Howe, co-author of The Fourth Turning, wrote this week that “[t]he Amazon-Walmart rivalry will determine the future of retail.” Well, it seems that way, perhaps, and I understand why a lot of people would imagine it, but I would draw some different conclusions. What we’re seeing is more like the battle between Godzilla and King Kong, two freaks of nature produced by a toxic culture, fixing to finish each other off.

The condition that will flavor events going forward is scale. Everything organized at the giant scale is going to fail. We have made all the systems of daily life too large and they will not function in the long emergency (and the fourth turning), an age characterized by universal contraction. This is true of corporations, institutions, schools, hospitals, farms, governments, virtually all organized enterprise. Retail is currently just the most visible example at the moment, since it is a commercial battleground that doesn’t enjoy public subsidies. The organisms on that field are exquisitely sensitive to economic reality, and the salient reality these days is the impoverishment of their customers, the former middle class.

This has been a sensational year for retail failure so far with a record number of brick-and-mortar store closings. But it is hardly due solely to Internet shopping. The nation was vastly over-stored by big chain operations. Their replication was based on a suicidal business model that demanded constant expansion, and was nourished by a regime of ultra-low interest rates promulgated by the Federal Reserve (and its cheerleaders in the academic econ departments). The goal of the business model was to enrich the executives and shareholders as rapidly as possible, not to build sustainable enterprise. As the companies march off the cliff of bankruptcy, these individuals will be left with enormous fortunes — and the American landscape will be left with empty, flat-roofed, throwaway buildings unsuited to adaptive re-use. Eventually, the empty Walmarts will be among them.

Just about everybody yakking in the public arena assumes that commerce will just migrate to the web. Think again. What you’re seeing now is a very short term aberration, the terminal expression of the cheap oil economy that is fumbling to a close. Apart from Amazon’s failure so far to ever show a corporate profit, Internet shopping requires every purchase to make a journey in a truck to the customer. In theory, it might not seem all that different from the Monkey Ward model of a hundred years ago. But things have changed in this land.

We made the unfortunate decision to suburbanize the nation, and now we’re stuck with the results: a living arrangement that can’t be serviced or maintained going forward, a living arrangement with no future. This includes the home delivery of every product under sun to every farflung housing subdivision from Rancho Cucamonga to Hackensack. Of course, the Big Box model, like Walmart, has also recruited every householder in his or her SUV into the company’s distribution network, and that’s going to become a big problem, too, as the beleaguered middle-class finds itself incrementally foreclosed from Happy Motoring and sinking into conditions of overt peonage.

The actual destination of retail in America is to be severely downscaled and reorganized locally. Main Street will be the new mall, and it will be a whole lot less glitzy than the failed gallerias of yore, but it will represent a range of activities that will put a lot of people back to work at the community level. It will necessarily entail the rebuilding of local and regional wholesale networks and means of distribution that don’t require trucking.

If you think we’re just going to switch the trucking industry over to electric vehicles or engines that run on bio-fuels, hydrogen, compressed air, or natural gas, you will be disappointed. Ain’t going to happen. We’re going to have to come up with something else, starting with the basic idea of the walkable community. This implies that we’re going to have to revive the existing towns and small cities that fit that description. And it also implies that a great deal of American suburbia will have to be abandoned. The capital will not be there to reform it. In any case, commerce later on in this century is not going to be anything like the Blue Light Special orgy of recent decades. And the transition will get underway with a speed that will make your head spin.


Teja crazzziecanuck Fri, 08/11/2017 - 15:43 Permalink

Ali Baba? You didn't read the article did you?Anyway, I like the prediction, it is actually OPTIMISTIC - both the Amazon society and the Wal Mart SUV driving society are dystopias bound to fail in the long run, not regarding oil or availability of electric cars or whatever. The problem is the social isolation of the people fostered by both types of trade. Together with other means of social isolation (smartphones, TV) it is breaking down society. Driving people mad.But I fear Kunstler is wrong, or at least short term wrong.

In reply to by crazzziecanuck

TuPhat Teja Fri, 08/11/2017 - 16:06 Permalink

Kunstler is wrong about everything in this article.  It is not suburbia that is failing.  The cities are failing right now as we have read on ZH.  If we have no suburbia and no big cities then what is left.  It would take a massive amount of dying off before what is left could survive in the rural areas.  Changes like that won't happen voluntarily.  Kunstler is perhaps proposing a purge like Stalinist Russia or the Chinese communists did on their own people.  That isn't happening anywhere else in the world right now so I can only assume that Kunstler thinks that is what is best for the USA.  If that happens we won't have small towns full of people conducting commerce on the square.  Everyone will distrust everyone else and black market bartering or theft and murder will be the order of day.  He should be careful what he is advocating for, I for one will place some of the blame for my misfortune on Kunstler and others like him.

In reply to by Teja

Lost My Shorts TuPhat Fri, 08/11/2017 - 18:23 Permalink

Kunstler has the sort of mind that can't distinguish between a prediction and a wish.  The return to Norman Rockwell small town America is what Kunstler fervently wishes for, and he has made a career of inventing endless nonsensical arguments why it must happen.  The only reason why he stays visible, instead of sinking into crackpot obscurity, is the large audience he has built up who also fervently wish for a return to the past.  Bloggers are not truth-revealers.  They are panderers and entertainers.  Anti-car, anti-Walmart doom porn is a product with an audience.The country is going to crack up, but not in the Rockwellian way he imagines.

In reply to by TuPhat

draego Lost My Shorts Mon, 08/14/2017 - 16:20 Permalink

Kunstler hates everyone. He started off making valid comentary and used his sarcasm to cut through the BS, but I think he found that his money maker is biting cynicism - and you can only pick on one sector for so long before you sound redundant, so he has to rotate-the-hate. Spread it around so that he keeps sounding fresh.He hates the cities, the suburbs and the current rural folk - he hates the north and the south, the east and the west, US and Europe, etc etc. He just keeps swapping it up - as long as he can sound brutal and superior.Now - all that being said - I AM a product of "The Long Emergency".  Kustler-of-old was informative and interesting - I just don't like what he's turned in to. 

In reply to by Lost My Shorts

duo HRClinton Fri, 08/11/2017 - 15:30 Permalink

Around here, it's Trammel Crow, who buys up land, gets zoning changed, and sells it to WalMart. There are WMTs literally a mile from each other in a grid. The grocery store that I've been going to for 20 years is closing next week, which sucks because now I'll have to drive to Kroger. I will never buy food at WalMart.

In reply to by HRClinton

mkkby duo Fri, 08/11/2017 - 16:28 Permalink

Cunt-slur doesn't say how this will happen, but he is referring to peak oil.  When oil starts running out and gets permanantly expensive, it is the rural areas that will be maintained as a first priority.Rural areas produce all the food, water and products sucked in by urban areas.  Put the rural out of business and you starve the parasitic host.  Cities produce nothing except paper work and bullshit services.  They endlessly make each other coffee and sandwiches, and wash each others dirty undies  because mommy never taught them these simple tasks.

In reply to by duo

HopefulCynical ejmoosa Fri, 08/11/2017 - 15:10 Permalink

Kunstler is correct, but not for the reason he thinks he is. What we're going to run out of is not energy. It is humans with the intelligence and work ethic contribute meaningfully to the increasingly high tech economy. When automobiles put buggy whip makers out of business, those folks could learn to work in the car factory instead. not so easy for the folks displaced by tech to get jobs servicing or designing that tech. Not so easy at all.

In reply to by ejmoosa

HopefulCynical DownWithYogaPants Fri, 08/11/2017 - 16:28 Permalink

...Dindus...hood rats...I'm not sure what your reply has to do with my point.The person who gets replaced by a robot most likely doesn't have the intelligence to get a job servicing the robots, much less programming or designing them. The few who do most likely don't have the time or resources to go back to school to learn to do so.The 'Dindus' might be less capable of making that jump, but lots of YT are also going to get stranded in Useless Eaterville. You should check out a movie called Pawn Shop Chronicles. It was sort of painful for me to watch, especially about the first 1/4 - 1/3 of it. I've lived in the rural South, and I'm here to tell you, that movie nailed the look and feel of not only the place but the people. Even a couple of decades ago, those folks could "earn their daily bread." But there's a reason that the only movie, set in the future, to feature such people is Idiocracy.

In reply to by DownWithYogaPants

ejmoosa HopefulCynical Fri, 08/11/2017 - 15:28 Permalink

When you live in a city, zoning is restricted.  What you can do is restricted.  The types of businesses are restricted.  Government fees and approvals are needed for the least of changes.All of that reduces your profitability.It's not intelligence that is limited, but the lack of operating room to create and develop new and innovative ways to operate a business.

In reply to by HopefulCynical

Stuck on Zero rejected Fri, 08/11/2017 - 16:57 Permalink

You bring up a good point. Web site design is not high tech. Graphics arts in Adobe is not high tech. Designing social media sites is not high tech. The practice of medicine is not high tech. In fact, 90% of what we call high tech is not.  Few engineers work in high tech. Very little high tech occurs in universities. High tech means PhDs working late in labs on projects with unknown outcomes and with a 10% chance of success at that. High tech means only 5% of the population understands what you're doing and the rest think it's silly.

In reply to by rejected

Big Creek Rising Canary Paint Fri, 08/11/2017 - 15:48 Permalink

It is a model that lots of dreamy libtard Obamalovers have pushed since the 1980s (starting with a famous fudgepacker named Andres Duanee). A few such utopias were built but it never really caught on.  As Walmart proved, the niceness of small town neighbors cannot make up for a competitor whose pricing model is based on mega-volume. Its a nice idea but Americans need the value Wally World provides.Kuntsler's been singing the same song for years, like an energy crash is going to rock our world next week.  No matter how clever his latest phrases are, and he often comes up with good ones (and tripe when he tries too hard), it just ain't happening anytime soon.That said, I remain long high speed lead (just in case).

In reply to by Canary Paint

waspwench Big Creek Rising Fri, 08/11/2017 - 16:05 Permalink

Absolutely agree.   The Libtards have been predicting the demise of suburbia for just about as long as I can remember.   It is not going to happen.   People are not happy being jammed too close to one another (especially in a society where common civility has disappeared and the neighbours are likely to be noisy and nasty.)   People will make a lot of sacrifices to have a bit of space around themselves, and a yard for the kids, and a big garage for tools and storage, and, and, and.....The Kommisariat wants us all conveniently located while they enjoy their country daschas but if it ever happens it will not be voluntary.

In reply to by Big Creek Rising

Big Creek Rising waspwench Fri, 08/11/2017 - 16:57 Permalink

And the Kommisariat you refer to includes all the anointed oligarchs and rentseekers like Musk and Bezos. Just look at techland in California where Facefuck employees live in their cars while Fuckerburg buys up all the modest houses around his mansion, just so he can tear them down and have a buffer from the unwashed proletariat. Kind of a different model from Henry Ford, who made sure he paid his people enough that they could afford his cars.Any attempts at forced relocations would be the tipping point for mass revolt/civil war. A lot of ZHers talk tough in posts about rising up (just like others all over the country) but nobody really will....until you mess with a man's castle. That little (or big) piece of the world that he worked hard for, including all those tools in the garage.  The oligarchs try to move men from their land--THAT would trigger real, serious, armed revolt. And good luck to the Kommisariat if all that happens.Funny thing, we have a few tech and banking zillionaires around here where I live, but I never see any of them at the range.  What happens if their security guys all run home to take care of their own families? Who will protect the oligarchs then?

In reply to by waspwench

daveO Big Creek Rising Fri, 08/11/2017 - 17:48 Permalink

It's not forced. First, they take away the jobs by outsourcing and supersizing biz(AMZM WMT) on the back of fraudulent FED fiat. Meanwhile, they brainwash the screwl kids about the wonders of gentrification. Then, they toss the unemployed some sort of hand out(cheese in the mouse trap, financed by FED fiat) for moving to the inner city. It's the cool thing to do./sarc 'Man bun' agrees.

In reply to by Big Creek Rising

not dead yet Big Creek Rising Fri, 08/11/2017 - 18:49 Permalink

Ford paying his 5 bucks an hour so they could afford his cars is bunk. He had to raise his wages because the assembly line was so boring and mind numbing turnover was huge. Wages were raised to cut turnover. As was typical with Henry that large pay was only attainable if goals were met. It had the desired effect as people came from all over the country to get a job a Ford, especially black people from the south. This is from the history of Ford not rumor.Kunt boy didn't give much thought when he said distribution would be reorganized to eliminate trucking. Do we go back to the days of yore and tear up the roads and every town is an oasis connected only by train? Towns of the future may be located around the main street but that main street will be big box stores and one stop shopping. Gone are the days of mom and pop joints of little selection and high prices and nasty sales people. People with big egos that need constant stroking like Kunt yearn for the days of old where shop owners knew their names and chatted them up before robbing them. To be feasable walkable towns need to exceeding small.Even though the the experts push the idea of globalization and it's great benefits the reality says it's stupid and wasteful. For example the Chinese buy timber from the US and make stuff from it in China and ship it back to us. I live in farm country where there is a large vegetable frozen food plant 10 miles away. Fresh frozen stuff that can be used year round. In a recent trip to the store, not Walmart or big chain, there was nicely packaged frozen veggies that were from Vietnam or China. All of that stuff is grown in this area yet we ship in this stuff from 5000 plus miles away by boat and truck. Yet the stuff was cheaper than the reasonably priced local stuff. No way anyone made money on this stuff as it cost more to ship it here and handle it than the price paid.

In reply to by Big Creek Rising

CheapBastard Gaius Frakkin'… Fri, 08/11/2017 - 15:04 Permalink

I miss the days when surburban malls were clean and fun and your life was not at risk walking thru the parking lot. Lots of good memories of dilly dallying safely in malls and B&M stores without gettig knifed for a pair of sneakers. But evidently all those "white supremacists" ruined it.  Dead malls of America documented in nostalgia-filled video series https://www.curbed.com/2017/4/27/15443970/dead-malls-america-videos-pic…

In reply to by Gaius Frakkin'…

Retired Guy Ghost of PartysOver Fri, 08/11/2017 - 15:20 Permalink

I agree. Joo this, Joo that sounds like Hitler. Blaming a whole racial group for the sins of a few members did the Jews, Germany and the world a whole lot of needless, stupid hurt. Even if a person believes that crap please stop repeating it on ZeroHedge. We heard you. We ignored you. Now STFU, your stupid is showing.Kunstler went off the deep end when he suggested we would rebuild the urban designed society soon because trucks can't deliver. Trucks or rails probably can deliver and all these suburban assets would have to show much more wear before they could be given up. I for one would rather live in a country shack than down town Chicago,  Las Angeles or name your favorite hell hole.

In reply to by Ghost of PartysOver

WTFRLY Ghost of PartysOver Fri, 08/11/2017 - 15:40 Permalink

Whatever motherfucker, there's only one clearly defined group of people organizing this shit show and it is obvious? Are they Asian? No. Is it the Dindus as ZH readers call them? No. Is it the beaners or other Latino  descendents? No. Is it the Moozlums as ZH readers call them? No. See my point? Starting to pare the numbers quite a bit. Who's left..........................

In reply to by Ghost of PartysOver

not dead yet WTFRLY Fri, 08/11/2017 - 18:58 Permalink

Although I don't subscribe to the theory that the jews are behind everything there is no doubt they are leading the charge for the Europeans to assimilate with the Muslims invading their countries not the other way around. Plenty of them in print and on Youtube with many holding classes to "educate" the people into destroying their heritage and countries to appease those what will cut your throat and dance on your corpse while celebrating.

In reply to by WTFRLY

AGuy WTFRLY Fri, 08/11/2017 - 15:14 Permalink

"Just getting ready for Agenda 21 or UN 2030 whatever it is called now. Megacities united under Joo World Order"

Not going to happen:

1. Most major cities have excessive debt and unfunded pensions
2. Lack of manufacturing & agraculture jobs. Cities import everything and export only waste & sewage
3. Many of the office jobs that make up the bulk of good paying jobs are likely to get automated or outsourced.

Most Major cities will follow in the footsteps of Detroit and Chicago, as companies and people leave, and only those that can't move that have no jobs or low wage jobs will remain.

The current trend is that companies and people are relocating to smaller cities and towns that have low taxes, and lower crime. When you look at the demographics nationwide all of the heavily populated states are seeing people leaving. I doubt this trend is going to change anytime soon.

In reply to by WTFRLY