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Readers Respond: Is America Ugly?

Responses: 34

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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

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 beautiful

Hi there. I'm from east Asia, I've never been to America. But I think America is beautiful. The Chinese word for America is "mei guo" which simply means beautiful country. I have found a lot of people who said other countries are better than theirs. Chinese admire American culture, same goes to Japan and the rest of Asia. I think hating your own country and admiring others are common for every nation. People tend to see what they can't get instead of being grateful with what they have. You just need to enjoy good things you have there.
—ahmadinejad

Meh

We are not perfect, but, there are some attractive cities here. If you live in a bland, strip mall mecca - move. If the more aesthetically pleasing American cities are too expensive, remind yourself that in essence only the rich get to live in the charming areas of London, Paris and Rome. While the poor live in council flats and estates. The world does not consist of the glittering capitals of Europe, but, more commonly, slums. Would you take slums with character over cookie cutter blandness? Are the finest world cities better looking than the average U.S. city? Yes. Is the average U.S. city uglier than the average city in the world? No. They are just as ugly as anywhere - and sometimes nicer and with better infrastructure. U.S. cites, indicative of our culture, tend to be practical, functional, commerce based and built for the auto. We tried to give every "man" his castle. Maybe we failed. But to act like U.S. cities are horrible and soulless in comparison to the world is laughable
—Guest Boston

Can't wait to leave America!

I am so tired of the lack of cultural beauty and refinement in this country. The way that all natural areas are devastated when even a small building has to be built. The horrible, monotonous chain businesses everywhere, selling junk food and cheap rubbish made in China. Any cultural originality, seems to exist mostly just in the past now, when American towns and cities were actually beautiful, with nice, solid buildings, and REAL gardens, with flowers and various kinds of plants in them, including climbing vine plants, that made a neighborhood look striking. Americans are obsessed with mowing vast areas that are not even used, instead of turning them into gardens, or, God forbid, allowing wildflowers to grow there. They must spend a fortune on mowing, or concreting/tarmacing everything over. Turning every urban space into a parking lot, so that there's nowhere to walk without having to constantly look out for cars. There seems to be an obsession with sterility and monotony.
—Guest Liz

Beautiful Country, Hideous Cities

American cities and towns are hideous. The culprits are skyscrapers, strip malls open air car parks, suburbs and freeways. Good, well architected, traditional buildings with some modicum of style and history got razed in the past to make space for these monstrosities. American suburbs are the epitome of dullness and shoddiness, the awful plastic siding, plastic windows, asphalt shingle and lousy chipboard everywhere. It's a nice country, with beautiful landscapes here and there and nice people, but what the same people--American business especially--made of it is terrible. There are some places that are likeable, e.g., San Antonio in Texas, Santa Barbara in California, Miami South Beach in Florida--basically what used to be Spanish. But there are so very few of them for such a large country. It's just sad.
—Guest Zdzislaw Meglicki

Depends on what lifestyle you prefer....

Born in CA, USA, educated in Europe, I would take my current for the past 15 years Scottsdale AZ lifestyle over any European city. Custom homes with EVERYTHING in it, acreage, breathtaking views from every room, world class golf and outdoors within 5-10 min drive, safe, clean, quiet, very private. Undisputed quality. And NO! I would never give up my climate - controlled vehicles with sat comms for cattle-style smelly mass transit! I can visit a city but not live in it. In Europe you have to be one of only few very wealthy to live lifestyle that American middle class can afford. The vast majority of Europeans are stuck in flats and buses, dragging all their daily essentials in their backpacks. I agree that warehouse- style shopping malls and food chains are simply disgusting, but unfortunately so many people prefer cheap junk and that's the demand that is driving the market. And I sure don't want to pay taxes for someone's "free ride", including the government itself.
—Guest AMN

Does America have a culture?

Maybe this is the question. Or to rephrase: Does a society have a culture if the culture consists entirely of a market culture? In America (a deliberately political appellation), the only answer to the question, "Is it good?" is "Does it make money?" Americans seem incapable of articulating any set of values beyond this one. Since as a society Americans do not value a socialized medical system, education system, retirement system, etc. since childhood is not revered and valued, since things such as gun rights are elevated above standards of public health, the result is a fundamentally unaesthetic society. The hideousness of American society is typified in America's lack of standards to protect children who are citizens who cannot vote. The Sandy Hook massacre aside, how does the American rate of annual firearm deaths per capita compare with other similar countries? (see gunpolicy.org) The United States of America is a sad and hideous place that is unfit for children.
—iconoclast1966

Awful depressing and slum looking

From Holland originally, I get depressed when I return from there - takes me at least a week to get used to the slummy way everything looks with gaudy colors on commercial buildings, screaming loud signs, no architectural interesting place to be seen anywhere. It is very awful
—Guest elsa

If You Leave America

...For a better country, you're never going to be able to go back to America without feeling dead, scared and miserable. Once you have seen the beauty of Scandinavia for example or even Ireland, or hell even parts of Russia it becomes hard to go back and try to situate yourself in the United States, even if you have a soul mate there, even if destiny calls you, you will feel like destiny is calling you to endure hell and you will always want to run away back to Europe, even willing to be with someone you don't love because it's easier to live, the government, and especially the gorgeous untouched environment that still exists. If you must live in America, do yourself a favor and remain ignorant, don't even go to these countries, because it will break your heart to have to go back and live in America and you will never stop longing to be there and the truth is you might even give up personal relationships and family to be there.
—Guest jen

Commercial ugly

Almost all commercial activity in America is ugly. And the roads are god awful. Huge, confusing, acres of unnecessary tarmac. Yet, many of the suburbs and houses are beautiful.
—Guest Simon Worrall

Facelifts would do wonders to improve

I see great facelifts all the time on buildings in malls and in neighborhoods. Just putting on a new face on many of these uninspiring boxes would make all the difference in the world. Interiors especially in malls need to be more creative. The blandness of architecture from about 1955 to 2000 or so is reminiscent of Soviet style blandness. Today's maximize-profit and minimize-beauty mentality in building leaves society dull and sad looking. Art in building is important, just like wearing clothes. Sure they function, but they also have style. American architects, building owners and developers need to realize that architecture is as much as public service as paying taxes.
—Guest Joebuilder

Europe Best Urban Design

Been to a few European cities and have to say they are well-designed and thoroughly thought-out. The UK is also, in my eyes, better than the States.
—Guest ash

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Is America Ugly?

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