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Readers Respond: Is America Ugly?

Responses: 19

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New Urbanist thinker James Howard Kunstler wrote that America has become a "national automobile slum" with a landscape dominated by parking lots and highways. Do you agree? What's your vision for America's cities and towns? Speak your mind

The Suburbs Are Ugly But Not The Cities

The suburbs are very ugly to me. It's like a cookie cutter was used to make the houses. Many houses look exactly the same and they lack architectural effort. The suburbs are also very unwalkable and sidewalks are only there for recreation. A lot of suburbs were designed in the 1960s which IMO was a terrible time for architecture. Meanwhile there has been a lot of effort to make downtowns beacons of vibrancy as they once were before World War II. The nice parts of cities are wonderful, filled with urban parks, wonderful homes, and great architecture.
—Guest Jack

Hideous Commerical Areas

The commercial areas of US suburbia are often hideous. Not always, but usually. It seems as if store owners have no class at all. However, the new development is a bit better.
—Guest jmb

Ugly America

America is a big country with much diversity in landscape and culture, so you can't generalize about whether it's ugly or beautiful. Many natural areas are stunning. But much of rural America looks like garbage with tacky double wide aluminum homes and trash strewn around. Many Americans are oddly proud of this as they revere the common man (i.e., most country music). Most suburban areas are just plain tacky. But some of the developed areas are beautiful, such as San Francisco, New England. Stay away from Washington State though - it's hideous. You'll hate it :)
—Guest Carlos danger

let's be real

Let's be honest. America is not as visually appealing as Europe because America is a very new country. Europe on the other hand is extremely old. Times change. We cannot be creating castle-like buildings when more than half of the population of the world is starving to death....I lived in NYC, which is the closest you can get to an European city and I absolutely hated it. The fact that you have to walk everywhere is the epitome of INCONVENIENCE. Good luck carrying around your groceries or anything for that matter without a car. Nothing beats the comfort of your car. LOL @ taking public transportation with people of lower class. And don't even get me started on sizes of apartments in cramped cities like cities in Europe (or NYC where I lived). More expensive, smaller, more stress, more inconveniences, etc. It just doesn't compare. I live in SoCal and could not be happier.
—Guest someone living in california

It's not just ugly...

I have lived in four U.S. states and driven through numerous others, from Alaska to Hawaii. I've also been to over five European countries and lived in the UK for many years. My honest opinion of America is: "Oh dear lord, this is sad." You know when people tell you "The grass looks greener on the other side"? Well, in the case of America vs. England, that statement is 100% true. The grass IS greener, both figuratively AND literally. You've never seen the colour green until you visit the UK. It's not just the rolling green hills that are green; it's every tree being partly covered with a soft green moss. It's every ruin being allowed to grow vines. It's the beautifully manicured pebble walkway being encouraged to sprout miniature creeping vines which grow underfoot, and the varied and textured stone masonry walls tastefully overgrown with shrubs. You've never seen so much green, and even the Hawaiian islands (on which I lived) do not compare. And that's just the colour green.
—Guest John

Some ugly, some beautiful

Just like every country on this planet there are ugly parts and there are beautiful parts. Modern architecture is largely horrendous in or outside of the United States. This country just had more of it because it's much younger (industrial). Comparing everything to Western Europe is kind of ridiculous, such a concentration of aesthetic dreams may never be seen again. Once the country fades from the public eye we'll move onto the next one, possibly China, and debate its superficial qualities as well.
—Guest Jim

America is not ugly, it's HORRIBLE!!!

I am Colombian and in Colombia I grew up with cities being very urban, with public squares, open cafes, streets filled with mom and pop stores, walkable neighborhoods and widespread public transportation... upon visiting the USA I felt nothing but repulsion as I visited city after city in over 7 different states and found that not only the cities lack personality and are incredibly sterile, but also they all look exactly the same!!! Then the whole fact that I need a car to be able to interact with a society that resumes itself to parking lots, big box chain stores and highways makes me very depressed!!! The only reason I decided not to settle in America but rather go to Europe is the cities... American cities are soulless mega-sprawls of suburbias that look all alike!!!
—Guest Andres

Sad Sad Country

I've travelled a lot, for work and pleasure! Never, never seen such a boring and depressing situation like the one we are experiencing in our society.
—Guest Chappy Max

Uglier Than Necessary

I agree that large parts of the country are ugly, but I don't agree with Kunstler that suburban architecture is automatically ugly. I like the "walled in" feel of a city or downtown street, but I don't believe anything associated with cars has to be ugly. American car culture makes sprawling neighborhoods possible, but 2 acre zoning in (often in the name of "environmentalism") is what keeps anything more engaging from being built. Even suburban houses don't have to be ugly, but the separation makes some ugly building practices easier to justify. If houses were closer together, the trashiness and fire hazard of vinyl siding would be less tolerable, but in many parts of the country , we have the luxury of being able to build with such plastic crap and convince ourselves that it's the greatest thing since sliced bread. The public has already reacted against wall-to-wall carpeting, fake-wood-paneling and other outdated suburban cliches; plastic-scab-covered houses should be next to go.
—Guest PCL

Country

I live in the country in Texas, and while I do have to drive to get groceries, etc., it's remarkably beautiful at times. I can see the lake from my back yard, and the house is on a small grassy lot in the middle of the woods on top of a hill. I wouldn't live in a city for anything though, and as far as cities are concerned, I agree with everyone else. Disgustingly ugly, trashy, concrete, glass, and steel.
—Guest Chance

Definitely

After living in Germany and moving back to the US, I've gotta say we have a pretty ugly country and unnecessarily so. The historic architecture is a big part of it, but even the newly developed areas are far more attractive than comparable American ones. The Germans would build new suburban developments as compact villages surrounded by woods/farmland and connected to the city with clean, quality public transportation. You could walk to the bakery, pub, a few stores and restaurants without ever getting in a car. In the US, the vast majority of us live in areas where the only things within walking distance are other houses (assuming there's even sidewalks). In exchange for living on larger lots, we have created suburban wastelands and forced ourselves to be completely reliant on cars and endure the traffic that inevitably comes about when everything is spread out and everyone has to drive to get anywhere.
—Guest Alex

Relatively?

I would agree with most of the posters here...that America is a naturally beautiful country. But, compared with other places (mainly Western Europe) the country as a whole doesn't compare. Of course, we haven't had a long history of empires and nations to have built before our time nor the population density. True development went hand-in-hand with industrialization (infrastructure and transpiration) and there was always that profit motive attached to the practical needs. It sad and I don't ever see American towns and cities being as "charming" as a whole than much else of the developed world.
—Guest Matt

Ugly is as ugly does.

The chain sameness is kinda cute but in a kinda sad way. There is good news, though. As soon as people realize the worth of space within their city, town or suburb, and how much they're wasting on car 'ownership,' they will find better things to with massive parking lots.
—Guest Sam G

UrbanBuilder

Why have our new neighborhoods become so boring and ugly?-It has been the perfect storm of converging ignorant sprawl-friendly city "planners" and buck-chasing-builders who are more interested in making a quick buck instead of building a "neighborhood". The majority of city planning departments have adopted regulations to enable builders to develop neighborhoods that are filled with repetitious homes- the predominant architectural feature a 16' wide garage door behind a parking lot of concrete. The rare development that purposes to keep cars and concrete BEHIND the homes has at least "the chance" to be a neighborhood. The builder who then has at least a minimal iota of design sense will build a melody of homes consisting of variant and tastefully detailed elevations with front porches that encourage folks to spend time outside. It ain't rocket science....just drive down any core area of any old town and you will see the genesis of true neighborhoods. Observe...use newer materials, repeat.
—Guest donbunker900

Beautiful America, Ugly Sprawl

America is a naturally beautiful country, and has many beautiful cities, but architecture and planning practices after WWII have ruined both city and country. Current codes in many areas make it ILLEGAL to build beautiful, walkable, pleasant cities. Sprawl is rapidly destroying our country.
—Guest Sam

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Is America Ugly?

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