THE GEOGRAPHY OF NOWHERE: The Rise and Decline of America's Man-Made Landscape by James Howard Kunstler (Simon & Schuster: $23; 284 pp.). From 1938, when Los Angeles dismantled its Big Red Cars, to the 1980s, when "edge cities" did away with the town square, America's war against the street has "bankrupted us both personally and at every level of government." Or so novelist and journalist James Howard Kunstler claims in this bilious polemic about how America, in valuing private property above everything, has killed off its most vibrant and human public spaces. Initially it's hard to share Kunstler's outrage, for a war against the street does not necessarily seem ill-advised in an era when there are so many wars in the street. But as we walk with him through the avenues of our colonial past, we begin to see how much we have lost in coming to view the street as little more than a traffic corridor. On one narrow, shop-lined lane, for instance, under the graceful canopy of trees that arch "like the vaults inside a church," we wend our way from a community's town square to its mill district, passing houses whose capacious porches welcome us by nearly meeting the sidewalk. After a few of these jaunts, our point of view begins to approach Kunstler's own, so that when he takes us to what he sees as the capitol of our Geography of Nowhere--Walt Disney's Tomorrowland--we too see its sterility and anti-humanity. And we too begin to wonder about a future that requires an innovation so "advanced"--the "people mover"--that there is no longer any need to walk.

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