An Empire Wilderness
Travels into America's Future
By Robert D. Kaplan

Robert D. Kaplan presents an engaging view of the American west and the closely related areas of British Columbia and Mexico. His journeys take him to such disparate places as St. Louis, Vicksburg, Kansas City, Vancouver, Mexico City, Los Angeles and the Oklahoma panhandle. In some ways the book provides further insights into trends previously chronicled in "Edge Cities," "The Nine Nations of North America" and "Ecotopia."

Kaplan provides one of the most succinct descriptions of the demise of St. Louis --- a city that has lost 60 percent of its population, which he concludes "no longer exists."

He provides a sympathetic description of the Oklahoma panhandle, constituting what may be the most comprehensive coverage of this geographical corner virtually unknown to most of the nation.

The book spends considerable time in discussing Arizona, its major cities and its native American preserves.

Kaplan finds that people in the emerging American communities, especially in the technology oriented edge cities, are likely to have much more in common with people they have only met through telecommunications than with their geographical neighbors, or people who live just a few miles away. In this regard, he correctly recognizes that the very meaning of community is undergoing a radical change.

The only significant problem is an uncritical acceptance of the Portland's purported land use planning success. Kaplan indicates that Portland has avoided the "unlimited growth" that has plagued other US cities. He further indicates that the cities of the Northwest (Vancouver and presumably Portland and Seattle) are devoid of sprawl. In fact, Portland sprawls at lower densities than Los Angeles and the central city of Portland is barely one-half to one-third as dense as the Orange County suburbs of Anaheim, Buena Park and Santa Ana. This mistake is often made by people who visit Portland's tiny but engaging core, while missing the other 99 percent of the urbanized area, which resembles Phoenix, though with more vegetation and more sprawl (less density).

With the noted exception the Kaplan book is important, useful and recommended as a thoughtful and apparently accurate assessment of US social trends as the 21st century approaches.

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