Book Review of "Penturbia" by Jack Lessinger

By Mark Wegierski
Volume 4, Number 3 (Spring 1994)
Issue theme: "End of the migration epoch?"


By Jack Lessinger

Bellingham, Washington, 1990

Socio-Economics Inc.

340 pages, $22.95

This work by a self-proclaimed 'think-tanker' and real-estate investment guru attempts to analyze American history in terms of five 'socioeconomic mindsets.' These succeed one another as follows The Mercantile Aristocrat; The Bantam Capitalist; The Colossus; The Little King (suburbia); and finally The Caring Conserver, representing 'penturbia.' Penturbia is 'an emerging region of growth and opportunity ... consisting of small cities and towns ... interspersed with farms, forests, lakes and rivers.... Look for penturbia beyond the normal commuting range of the nation's central cities' (Penturbia, backflap). Backed up by notes, five appendices of charts, maps and diagrams, and a short and selective bibliography as well as various visual aids throughout the text, Lessinger attempts to make the argument for the emerging 'utopia' (as he calls it) of the twenty-first century. He also has a fair index, though most of it is based on his own, rather than particular, terminologies.

The work is largely a restatement of such ideas as those expressed in Alvin Toffler's Third Wave, predicting an idyllic life in the American countryside of the twenty-first century, in which people work electronically and take good care of their environment, in their so-called 'electronic cottages.' One of the interesting points in Lessinger's book is that it makes the county the central unit of analysis, possibly suggesting the hope for a return of truly local government.

The major problem with Lessinger's thesis is that its main audience is effectively persons who are already retired, or nearing retirement, as well as the yuppie so-called DINKs (double income - no kids). It cannot be doubted that many retired persons will have the means to move into small towns or communities in the countryside, to get away from all the big-city - and now even suburban - problems. But the fact is that, though these retirees will constitute an ever-increasing proportion of the population, many have failed to have children to replace themselves. This means that the lifestyle of penturbia, if it occurs at all, will be of relatively brief duration.

The notion of penturbia - whether Lessinger acknowledges this or not - links into the ideas of 'gated communities' (such as Green Valley in Nevada) or the so-called fortified Hollywood mansions in the hills of Los Angeles. The persons who can move into penturbia are those of fairly extensive means, who will, furthermore, presumably not establish any line of generational continuity there. Also, while it may be relatively easy for the wealthier person to move into such a community, it cannot be denied that various megapolitan problems have a way of sloshing over even into such communities. For example, those few younger families with children will find that their offspring are only slightly less exposed to the temptations represented by MTV and other mass media, and all the variegated vices of the great megapolitan centers. And what will happen to all those people left behind in the big cities? Many lower-, middle- and working-class people there have been left to the mercy of megapolitan violence, pollution, and decaying urban services.

The rosy-hued utopianism of this work is simply untenable. A serious facing up to our ever-darkening future, which will probably be more similar to that suggested by movies like Bladerunner, RoboCop, or A Clockwork Orange, would be more salutary.

About the author

Mark Wegierski is a Toronto-based writer and historian. He is a frequent contributor to The Social Contract.