Book Reviews -- Derelict Landscapes: The Wasting of America's Built Environment by John A. Jakle and David A. Wilson

Article excerpt

In this thought-provoking and insightful work, Jakle and Wilson seek to unearth the tangled roots of contemporary landscape dereliction in the U.S. Although neglect and abandonment of both rural and urban built environments have long been a common, if usually ignored aspect of the American scene, this study convincingly argues that various forms of dereliction--disinvestment, underutilization, vacancy, decay and degradation--have become widespread and chronic with the nation's rapid transformation since the Second World War. Viewed from the perspective of structuration theory, which recognizes the influence of key decision makers who operate within structured social, economic and political contexts, the authors conclude that the wasting of America's man-made landscapes is "driven by the complex interconnections of uneven development, a supportive legal system, and basic cultural values that legitimize its perpetration" (xviii).

The book consists of 297 pages of text, organized into nine chapters, followed by an extensive bibliography. In the first two chapters, dereliction is defined and its growth Since the 1950s explained in the context of underlying cultural values that predispose Americans to be wasteful of places, especially those vernacular landscapes of everyday life. The essential point is made that we, collectively as a culture, see dereliction as inevitable, yet only a temporary precondition to renewal, and thus useful in a capitalistic economy in the evolution of new and better places. In chapter 3, dereliction of industrial landscapes is couched in the process of deindustrialization and concluded to be fundamentally a consequence of capitalism which encourages short-term profit taking over long-term planning.

Having framed the broader picture, the core of the volume, consisting of chapters 4, 5 and 6, examines dereliction in specific settings: in the central city, in inner-city neighborhoods and in rural areas, especially small towns. …