July 9 Sources: Our Houses are too Big

A home built today is more than twice as big as one built in 1950. Our parents thought nothing of a family of five sharing one bathroom. Today a couple thinks it uncivilized not to have a bathroom for each with one to spare. Behind the Ever Expanding American Dream House tells the story. We are a lot richer, but are we happier? This, BTW, is one problem even the most radioactive activists cannot blame on Bush.

Not only are homes bigger, they are also on bigger lots. This subject stirs strong emotions in suburban hearts. Neighbors think they have the right to the use of other people's properties. If you listen to the NPR article, you will hear a woman complain that her "rights" to a view were violated when people built houses on their own properties. Most of us were enraged by the Kelo case, but happily sign on to ex-post-facto development restrictions that amount to the same thing (i.e. taking someone's property)

I dislike big ostentatious houses as much as anyone else, but unless restriction are in place BEFORE the person buys that land, what he does with his property is none of my (or anybody else's) business. I think we should change zoning laws to allow denser development, including duplexes and "mother in law" apartments in suburban neighborhoods and also allow retail and commercial uses to be mixed with residences. It makes a more organic living space. This is what we like about older cities or those Euro cities we say are so charming. And while we are at it, let's make parking more expensive. The fact is that many of the city amenities we like we have made illegal in new construction. The suburban sprawl we now decry is the result of our "good" decisions. Let development be a little messier and we will be better off.

BTW - A very good book to read on the subject is "A Pattern Language". Other good books that explain how our cities got that way are "City Life" and "The High Cost of Free Parking"

BTW 2- Sometimes you can have too much privacy. In the past, kids shared bedrooms and bathrooms. They constantly fought over space, but at least they had some company and somebody to talk with. Now they have their own space and privacy to live in their own lonely world. None of us has to talk with anybody we don't want to meet. We drive from one safe house to another. Serendipity of the fortuitous meeting is gone, planned out of existence. I remember the days before widespread air conditioning. People sat on their front porches to avoid the heat. The side effect was that people got to know their neighbors and any crime or vandalism had dozens of witnesses.

I did not find very much interesting this week, but my other sources for this week are below:

Civil Society and Philanthropy Under Putin
Do Democrats Have a God Problem?
Globalization's Hidden Benefits
Greenspan's Inflation is Bernake's Problem
How Eisenhower Stopped Illegal Border Crossings
Internet Social Networks
Muslims in Europe
The High Court Hamdan Power Grab
Behind the Ever Expanding American Dream House

Posted by Jack at July 9, 2006 12:39 AM
Comments
Comment #166044

Jack,

Good article. You’re especially correct on the second BTW. Several of my friends lived in houses like this and it was ridiculous the way they lived. The house was more like a hotel room. Dinner was eaten in bedrooms each with their own TV, phone, video game system and bathroom. The end result was that this “family” was more like an apartment complex in which everyone just happened to be a blood relation.

Posted by: 1LT B at July 9, 2006 1:58 AM
Comment #166046

Jack,

Having the monster house is the in thing. Here in
the Saginaw Valley (Michigan) we have developments cropping up all over the place in the rural areas while cities like Saginaw and Bay City are losing population. In the case of Bay City, they have neighborhoods like you describe, residencial with a little commercial mixed in. Most of the folks I know from there think nothing of going down the street to grab a
pizza from the local shop. Unfortunately, here in
Saginaw, we don’t have that. Every year I watch as many houses from the Victorian era become derelict and later torn down. I can think of only a couple of neighborhood businesses. We citizens of this city talk alot about keeping the city vibrant but don’t, can’t or won’t do anything to achieve that end. No, folks just keep pulling up roots and moving out to the township with their big ol’ house with little or no lawn. I don’t understand the need for all that space that clearly some folks dont need and sometimes have no use for.

1LT,

I know what you are saying as far as the “hotel” situation goes. My family is guilty of it. We have almost as many tv’s as we do rooms in this house. It’s not as bad as it once was. We all don’t go to our seperate corners now. We’ve started getting reaquainted with shared space again. We tend not to be as snappy to each other as we used to. Most of us have a clue as to whats going on with the rest of the familia members now. (I’m still in the dark more often than the rest ‘cause I’m the dad, its my job to have the most confusion.) We have become a tighter unit. It’s nice when times are good, but better when life leaves a few pot holes in the road.

Posted by: Madness!! at July 9, 2006 2:28 AM
Comment #166047

Jack,

Excellent piece! I think the same is true in the case of our vehicles. These huge, pollution- spouting SUVs careening down the roads in droves. Killing every specimen of wildlife they meet.

Drivers blissfully unaware of the bicyclist, the small child chasing her new ball, the roadkill kitten that reduces a grown man to tears in mourning. Blissfully unaware because of the mascara, the ever-present cellphone, the Big Mac.

Alone…

In their own world…

Stressed… Miserable.

There is a better way…

Posted by: ChristianLeft at July 9, 2006 2:30 AM
Comment #166055

Jack, you already know we agree on the research for mixed income and multi-zoned neighborhoods which bring jobs close to housing, where possible.

And I agree with you, that public expectations for how much house is appropriate, are way out of whack and not in keeping with realistic budgets.

Where we likely disagree is where the responsibility lies for all this unaffordable and wasted space consumers believe they must have.

You are all for free markets and laissez faire policy and caveat emptor warnings to consumers as sufficient. I am far more qualified.

Society and its future depend directly upon designed plans, strategies, and goals. Responsible Anarchy says everyone should choose according to their means. But what if “means” comes to be defined to include huge leveraged debt which chokes off other responsible consumer choices and socially beneficial behaviors? For that is precisely what this Republican government sponsored policies have promoted. They have promoted this choking effect by permitting lenders and developers carte blanche to market and adverstise products designed to create indentured servitude of consumers. They create indentured servitude with things like bait and switch interest offers on credit cards as high as 32%, adjustable rate mortgages (ARM’s), and even reverse mortgages which deny home ownership from the beginning completely blocking off asset wealth accrual.

There was a long time period in the last century when government looked out for citizens by keeping predatory lending practices in check, and even by promoting responsible consumer choices through government sponsored publications about consumer products. All that changed rapidly when the Republicans took control of Congress and the White House.

32% interest rates on credit cards? Legal? Only under a Republican government could this happen. The government of Shylocks who believe an ignorant working public is a tremendous resource for wealth accumulation by those willing to exploit the citizenry through clever marketing and advertising of unaffordable products to consumers who can no longer file bankrutcy in response to succumbing to that marketing and advertising. And the Republican government actually opens the doors wide for this consumer exploitation by rescinding laws and policies which educated and incentivized public saving, and frugality, and responsibility. They opened the doors wide when they lifted the restrictions and eliminated the standards for fair and responsible lending practices.

So, no, I won’t blame Bush solely. He signed the bills that the GOP congress passed under the radar to create this environment of exploitation and indentured servitude toward gullible and less educated consumers, which includes now, a large part of the middle class. And this environment is going to have far reaching economic and social negative consequences as years go by.

This kind of seller/consumer darwinism promoted by Republican politicians is unconscionable. But, to tell you the truth, I don’t think most Republican politicians are even aware of the long term damaging consequences of their actions. They are following a faulty economic ideology, which at its heart assumes an educated and informed consumer class.

One only need look at the obesity problem in America for evidence that the assumption Republican economic theory is based on, is false. If the premises are false, then the theory is false in its conclusions.

A household income of $75,000 per year now qualifies a family for a home purchase of a quarter million dollars? This is the result of the Republican economic theory and their legislative policies stemming from it, which favor predatory lending practices. Real wages are dropping for the middle class, job security is at all time lows, pensions and retirement plans are all facing jeopardy, and yet, Republicans promote lending practices and advertising and marketing that would sell a quarter million dollar home to a family making $75,000 a year?

Get real! There will never be a growth in national savings in this kind of environment.

I don’t own a cell phone. I don’t own a digital TV. My truck is 25 years old and running strong. The wife’s car is 10 years old and running great at 180,000 miles. Bought it used at 80,000 miles for $3000.00. We have a 1400 sq ft home we built ourselves, superinsulated, solar water heating, wood stove heated, and window air conditioners used only when the rooms are used. For a family of 3 on less than $100,000 a year income, we are wealthy by comparison with many in the middle class when asset debt ratio is calculated.

But, and this is the Crucially Important point,
We are not typical American middle class consumers. The wife and I are both college educated with one of us (me) modestly educated in economics and finance (meaning I paid attention in these elective and graduate college courses).

If the great consumer middle class were comparably educated, the laissez faire, caveat emptor policies of Republicans stemming from darwinian ecnomic theory would make sense and perhaps significantly increase prosperity for the nation’s future. But, these are not the facts on the ground, and as a result, our economic future is looking bleaker by the year, and the divide between the wealthy and the middle class is growing at an incredible rate.

So fast, that we are going to have to invent a new term, “middle class debt servants” to our vocabulary in the near future. These will be a growing population of American middle class workers who made very good wages but, whose debt ratio to earnings, creates horrendous social problems like tax evasion, loan defaults, and debt restructuring which shall, regardless of their middle class income, keep them servants to their debt for the rest of their lives. A great many will be placed in that group by medical costs. Many more by their mortgages. And a great many more by wage downsizing and inflationary presssures.

That is our future under Republican political and economic policy. Welcome to the great American middle class of he 21st century.


Posted by: David R. Remer at July 9, 2006 4:45 AM
Comment #166063

Those big houses also play a role in undocumented immigration. A lot of the nannys, gardeners and maids for those big houses are undocumented aliens. Those of you living at that level would never dream of doing these things for yourselves and we all know it is hard to find “good Help”!

Posted by: Hosea at July 9, 2006 9:14 AM
Comment #166077

Score for Jack! A couple years ago my family of five moved to the South American country of Paraguay. We had 3 bedrooms, 2 baths a small living room and a smaller kitchen. We had no TV, no cell phones. If we wanted to use a computer we had to walk up the hill to a computer lab. It was awesome! We never had to ask where someone was or spend five minutes looking around the house for them. A five second walk down the hall was good enough. We rarely argued. O the joys that credit have brought us.

Posted by: Silima at July 9, 2006 10:15 AM
Comment #166078

Jack,

I occasionally do some work on integration systems in these opulent palaces.

I worked on a house, not far from where you and I had lunch, that was 22,000 sq ft.
The guy spent 5 million to dig a basement.
There is an exercise room that looked like a “Total Fitness”, a game room with arcade games, a bar, a “home” theater with 15 custom recliners, and a children’s play area.
That was in the basement.
Curiously, while there is access to media of all types, throughout the house, there is none at all in any of the children’s rooms, not even computers.
I live on a cul-de-sac with 18 houses on it, and you could fit the sq ft of every house on my street into that house.
What was truly amazing is that the ceilings throughout this 2 story house, are all over 12ft.
There is more money in the integration system alone than most people spend on their entire homes.

You might think that the owner of a house like this would be, at least somewhat snobbish, but he is an affable guy, that I knew before he made it big, and he hasn’t changed at all.

Posted by: Rocky at July 9, 2006 10:18 AM
Comment #166084

Jack:

I don’t know, I wouldn’t mind living in an ostentatious house with rooms I wouldn’t even use…but I guess we have different priorities…

Anyway, I just don’t see the significance of this post, and I reject your notion that there is a “problem” with building big houses. The examples you use about people having more company in small houses and being lonely in large houses is facetious, at best.

I personally think a big house shows power, respect and authority, and people like that. So, I would argue that some people, myslef included, would be hurt by your proposed zoning law restirctions, because we take pride in our material things, whether our cars, clothes or houses.

But in any case, we have much more dire issues to worry about then the size of our houses…

Posted by: Alex Fitzsimmons at July 9, 2006 10:42 AM
Comment #166097

Well I am 24 and struggling, just out of college. The way inflation is going with my BA I will never even make enough money to own my own home out right within my life time. So who cares if it is big or small I just wnat something that is mine. You big wig republicans don’t realize how difficult your policies and reforms are making living simple for all of us lower middle class young people who have not had the chance to establish ourselves. So I say screw and I can definitly blame the big houses and the overpricing on both you and Bush because he is the one allowing it all to get so very out of hand. So as the richer get richer I guess I will just get poorer and poorer.

Thanks a lot!
Lauren

Posted by: Lauren at July 9, 2006 12:07 PM
Comment #166101

Lauren,

If you want job security, the option to travel, and good tax free income, I have a suggestion. Join the Army! I’m making a fortune over here and Uncle Sam can’t touch it. I’m one year older than you and I’ve never had to worry about money, my health insurance, any of it since I was taken into the warm busom of military service.

Posted by: 1LT B at July 9, 2006 12:33 PM
Comment #166104

David & Alex

Despite your coming at it from opposite sides, I can answer you both with the same thought.

I don’t want to stop people from living in big houses. I think it is usually a bad idea, but it is not my (our) business to make rules about it.

The problem is that many policies and regulations encourage big houses and discourage or make illegal dense or mixed communities. I live near a suburban metro stop. My opinion is that development should be very dense near the metro, so that people can walk to the metro and need cars less. Most people agree with me but ONLY in theory. Community activists fight to keep the numbers down. Local regulations require a certain number of parking spaces per unit. They stipulate that units must have kitchens etc. They prohibit home businesses or regulate offices in homes. Developers must include low income units etc. All this encourages builders to put bigger units on the very expensive land and spread out the population. Change the regulations to ALLOW the kind of development both liberals and conservatives want, and we may get it.

Lauren

You are also a victim of these policies above. You cannot afford the big house we are building now. You probably could afford the 2/3 smaller house we used to build. You probably could afford a house with fewer amenities, which you might not even want.

Let me share my experience with you on houses. When I was your age (a while ago) everyone complained that we would never be able to buy houses. Our parents generation was the lucky one, we all said. Well we were able to buy houses. More of us own houses than any generation before us. You will too.

Posted by: Jack at July 9, 2006 12:44 PM
Comment #166106

Lauren
Why do you blame the guy in the white house or republicans. The blame should lie on the american people in general. It is the greed of the american people in general. People driving around in vehicles that cost as much as a house did in the fiftys and sixties. Why? Because of the Unions that promissed the workers a better way of life. Sure they (the unions) were good for awhile, until greed stepped in. Jobs leaving the country because employers can’t compete with the foreign importers. So it’s not the fault of the guy in the white house be he democrat or republican. It is the fault of the greed we have in this country wanting more for less.

Posted by: Rich at July 9, 2006 12:53 PM
Comment #166114

Rich, I totally agree with you. How many of the Big Homes, with 10 bedrooms, 5 bathrooms etc actually have someone that stays in that bedroom or even live in the house.
A lot is a status symbol, I make a lot of money therefore I can own a BIG house, and you can’t.
How many of these homes are being payed for by 2 family members working and it is all going toward the mortage? What happens when one loose’s their job? If you don’t think it happens and the house goes up for sale, go take a ride thru the so called rich part of town and count the number of houses up for sale.
Myself I am retired from one job but am working full time at my second, my wife works. When I went looking for a house, I looked in the price range where my retirement paid the mortage, I could have bought more, but this way I have money for trips, little extra things and for my grandkids.
Greed besides what you said Rich is also the more we have, the more we want, what happened to live within you means.

Posted by: KT at July 9, 2006 1:15 PM
Comment #166117

Jack,

I definately agree with you about the house-size boom. The problem is that Americans, and really most consumers, have trouble taking a long view with their purchasing power. American companies, in the same way, don’t consider the business climate ten to twenty years down the road when doing comerce.

We will gradually run out of suburban space to develop, which is a concept I’m sure most people haven’t really considered. Everyone wants a big plot of land, so they move to the suburbs and commute to work in their cars (or SUVs). But as the suburbs push out, property values start to go up, and as more and more land becomes individual lots, there is more pressure for large land owners like farmers to sell if they are near to a city. The city (technically, it is a nonprofit corporate entity) I live in is Columbia, MD, and this exact problem exists here. The whole of Howard county was once farmland, but as the suburbs expanded, a man name James Rouse planned out a community, centered around a shopping mall and a library and started buying up property. As people started to move there, they bought up all the land in the area designated Columbia, and due to restrictions on building (because Rouse wanted a planned community) there were apartments and townhouses and single family homes all built around each other. But even this proved to be too close quarters for some people, so the nearby town of Clarksville became subject to massive land buyouts, and now features the largest homes I have ever seen in my life. All this was once prime Maryland farmland, but it has been sacrificed on the altar of more elbow room. We cannot undo turning our natural resource, land, into suburb, and if our popuation grows to a certain point, we could actually harm our food production. As well, the whole suburban model requires cheap transportation (read: petroleum fuels) to remain viable, but twenty years from now, prices may not be such to flexibly allow cheap commuting. As well, these ever larger homes use more and more energy, due to several factors including cheap building techniques, inefficent heating and cooling systems, poorly sealed windows and doors, and insulation systems which don’t make usage of the most advanced technologies. It amazes me that more companies do not use the most advanced insulants, which can keep a house warm during weather down into the negatives (fahrenheit) without heating. We have many efficiencies which we do not use because we have an illusion of cheap power that will not necessarily last.

The business climate may change, and with it people’s habits will change, but when it comes to settlement patterns, this is not a problem which will quickly abate. Instead people are locked into their choice for most of their lives, and even if a generation later we wanted to change things, simply leveling the suburbs wont be possible, or a viable sollution.

Posted by: iandanger at July 9, 2006 1:26 PM
Comment #166128

Jack, your reply to me (& Alex) doesn’t appear to respond to my reply at all. By your reasoning, it should not matter if folks pollute, or drive gas guzzlers. None of your business. Society must be planned and designed, or one this complex and diverse will not hold together for a myriad of reasons.

Responsible consuming is not a genetic or inherent trait of the human species - it is learned or not! Our society has an obligation to teach its inhabitants about responsible consumption from the corporate level to the individual. Where in our society is that to be learned, and does everyone have access to that education?

Posted by: David R. Remer at July 9, 2006 2:01 PM
Comment #166130

David,

You laid a lot at the feet of the government that in my opinion doesn’t belong there. I’m with on the usury laws needing to be reformed, but you lost me after that.

Financial products like ARM’s and reverse mortgages have their place. An ARM is great for someone that works for a company that moves them every 3 to 5 years. A negative mortgage is great for an elderly couple that is faced with high health care costs in the last 5 years or so of their lives. 75K qualifying for a $250K mortgage makes sense if you are single with no children and in the first 5 to 10 years in a career that promises to double their income, especially if they can lock in on a low fixed mortgage where the payment is less than a third of your income.

The reality is that your second point is right on. These products are big investments. People spend more time picking out the new TV or the next vacation than they do considering the financing for the largest purchases they will ever make. There is a huge gap here for a non-profit to provide the kind of advice that is needed for people to make these large financial decisions because unfortunately your third point is right too, we will have middle class debt servants if people don’t learn how to make these decisions.

Posted by: Rob at July 9, 2006 2:06 PM
Comment #166137

Rob,

“Financial products like ARM’s and reverse mortgages have their place. An ARM is great for someone that works for a company that moves them every 3 to 5 years.”

Yeah, you’re right to a point. These types of mortgages have also helped fuel the housing market bubble that may burst at any time, leaving many folks with overvalued homes holding the bag.

Good thing they changed those bankruptcy laws.

Posted by: Rocky at July 9, 2006 2:13 PM
Comment #166140

okay you think houses are too big

so dont buy a big one. dont use zoning laws for the purpose of social engineering.

zoneing laws exist so people cant build sky scrappers in the middle of a suburb not so you can create neighborhoods you think look nice

Posted by: robert at July 9, 2006 2:29 PM
Comment #166141

My parents raised 8 of their nine kids in a 850 sq ft 3 bedroom 1 bath house. Try sharing that with 6 sisters. My brother and I went to the corn field several times.
My wife and I raised 6 kids in whatever we could find where we were stationed while I was in the Air Force, and built a 1500 sq ft 3 bedroom 2 1/2 bath house when I retired and finished raising the kids in it.
Today, we have 3 grand youngins, a boy and 2 girls with us and the house is plenty big enough.
I’ve noticed that a lot of folks have only one or two youngins in a 4500 sq ft 4 bedroom 5 1/2 bath house and complain that it’s too small.
We don’t have much of a urban sprawl problem here. Yet. But I can see it coming with folks wanting to leave the stink hole that they call Valdosta. Right now most the sprawl is in Lowndes County.
Now Atlanta is another story. Urban sprawl is all over. You can drive 100 miles from one end of it to another. They really need to start doing something about that. But don’t seem to have any idea as to what.

Posted by: Ron Brown at July 9, 2006 2:31 PM
Comment #166142

Rob, that was the point. I am not opposed to ARM’s or even loans of 32%. They can have their place. But, what is abominable is the way they are marketed and the absence of consumer warnings and education about the incredible potential downsides for these instruments, not to mention the bait and switch by credit card companies offering 0% for 6 months, and in print to small to read and legalized to be comprehended, asterisked footnotes which indicate interest rates will change after that period indexed to the prime rate, and dependent on a whole host of factors which they do not itemize.

They don’t tell you that the very act of opening another credit card account can boost your rates into the stratosphere. This is predatory lending practices and under the Democrats, it was regulated and controlled. Under the Republicans, there is no consumer protection from such practices, and worse, no bankruptcy backdoor either. That leaves restructured for life debt repayment, or in other words, for growing numbers, indentured servitude to the credit Shylocks.

Posted by: David R. Remer at July 9, 2006 2:34 PM
Comment #166143

Rocky, yep. That bankruptcy reform was the one of the worst enactments of this Republican government second only to the invasion of Iraq and financing under emergency appropriations to keep it off budget.

Posted by: David R. Remer at July 9, 2006 2:36 PM
Comment #166144

David

I don’t want to plan that much. We have to set up flexible rules and then give people option. I lived for a while in Brasilia. It was completely planned and not good at all. The only nice part of the city was the unplanned areas where workers had set up houses or the far side of the lake that was beyond the planner grasp.

We are still paying for those urban plans of the 1960s and 1970s. Those ugly buildings and complexes are the result of planning, not mistakes. Remember that the planners of earlier times consciously worked to draw people out of the cities with wide roads and expressways. That WAS the plan.

The kinds of planning you advocate caused this problem in the first place. Our building codes have caused us to subsidize driving and parking and limited density. If we just cut it out we will be better off.

As for the people borrowing money, they will have to learn to do better. I would restrict credit and make it harder to get. A fool and his money are soon parted, but we should not facilitate it.

I agree that too many people cannot control their impulses. This is really nothing new. It is just that we give too many options.

Posted by: Jack at July 9, 2006 2:37 PM
Comment #166145

One force that may reverse the “McMansion” trend is the aging of the Baby Boom generation. The first wave of this 77 million strong cohort turns sixty this year. In retirement, most of these folks will require housing that is easy - and inexpensive - to maintain. In ten or fifteen years the huge homes being built today may well be accomodating two or three generations of a single family struggling to keep the oldsters out of a home and the yougsters in a good school. Assuming, of course, that by that time the generations of a family will actually give a damn what happens to one another. To pin the McMansion phenomenon on the Republicans - or the Democrats -is specious. It is rather a pure example of bipartisan American excess.

Posted by: Tom Schofield at July 9, 2006 2:42 PM
Comment #166147

David,

It was the Democrats in Tennessee that legalized the worst offenders, Pay Check cashiers and Car Title Loans. These guys can charge up to 100% APR and have you on a tighter leash than the mob.

I’m not sure their is a party bias on support for predatory lending, but I’d be happy to look at some facts. I’m undecided on the bankruptcy law. Part of me thinks that it should be very difficult to declare, but I understand the need to have a release valve.

Posted by: Rob at July 9, 2006 3:06 PM
Comment #166148

Jack,

Another issue, at least in Arizona, is water.

Del Webb built a “planned” community for 50,000 people called Anthem, just north of Phoenix. They are leasing water rights from the Ak-Chin Indian tribe, by way of the CAP.

Arizona is already fighting with California because we took the Colorado river water we were “entitled” to. Southern California has always had water issues dating back to Mulholland in the early 1900’s that could have stifled the growth of Los Angeles.

In the desert, growth and development is all about water. If we are to continue to grow, we need to figure where the water is going to come from, otherwise development doesn’t matter.

Posted by: Rocky at July 9, 2006 3:10 PM
Comment #166150
This, BTW, is one problem even the most radioactive activists cannot blame on Bush.

Much as you would like to believe, and much as you would like everyone to believe, that people who think Bush is a bad president blame him for everything wrong in the world, that is simply not the case. I for one think he is the most ill-suited and unsuccessful President in history, bar none, no contest (except maybe Andrew Johnson). But few, if any of his detractors blame him for all the world’s ills. I sure don’t.

I must tell you that this one sentence really detracted from and poisoned what was close to the best (IMHO) blog entry you’ve ever written.

Having said that, while I most certainly do not BLAME the chimp for the US “My ____ is bigger/better/more expensive than your ____” attitude, I absolutely do believe he and his party and their supporters EPITOMIZE this attitude, to the detriment of our nation.

You yourself in the past have espoused the attitude that the free market will solve all our problems. But correct me if I’m wrong to say that the free market has brought us nauseatingly opulent and wasteful homes, vehicles and lifestyles. Seems to me like free markets got it wrong in this particular area.

Posted by: crazy_joe_divola at July 9, 2006 3:24 PM
Comment #166152

Who decides? Whose criteria do we follow? Should we all live under the aupices of a National Homeowners Association, with footprint size, room number, bath number and garage size restrictions? Freedom? I know not what course others may take, but as for me, give me a 6 bedroom 7 bath tudor style w/4 car garage or give me a ranch!

Posted by: JR at July 9, 2006 3:30 PM
Comment #166154

Rob, federal law governed consumer capped interest rates when Democrats held Congress. When revoked, states could regulate as they pleased in accordance with who would pony up the greatest kickbacks to election campaigns. Democrats in Tennessee apparently had the greatest potential for largesse under the revocation of federal caps by the Republicans.

I have for a very long time now, postulated that Democrats are no better than Republicans when it comes to political campaign bribery, blackmail, and being bought by business. It is why I left the Democratic Party years ago. What they said, and what the did, were too often in opposition.

But, just as Republicans have dramatic improvement to the welfare system to their credit, Democrats had control and regulation over predatory lending to their credit. Even a broken clock is right twice a day.

Posted by: David R. Remer at July 9, 2006 3:39 PM
Comment #166155

David,

Thanks for the info. I’m not sure that having the States decide is a bad thing or not, generally, I’m in favor of devolving power to the local levels; however, financial instituations and products cross state lines so easily that I wonder why they are subject to the interstate commerce clause. I’ll have to chew on this one and do some more research.

Thanks again, something to work on this week.

Posted by: Rob at July 9, 2006 3:53 PM
Comment #166157

Bill Gates, his wife and two children live in a house that is bigger than some countries! He’s got bathrooms with more square footage than my two-bedroom bungelow!

So what? He can afford it. I imagine his property tax bill is greater than my annual salary. So what? He can afford it.

You work hard, you accumulate wealth, you build a big fancy house.

That’s the American way.

But I suspect the Gates family is no happier in their big estate than my wife and I are in our little bungelow.

Some things money just can’t buy!

Posted by: ulysses at July 9, 2006 4:05 PM
Comment #166158

Ulysses
Good post. It’s to bad many americans believe bigger is better.

Posted by: Rich at July 9, 2006 4:12 PM
Comment #166161

David,

Don’t forget that while the states can decide what passes for a maximum interest rate the consumer still has to pay the interest rate charged by the bank out of the state it is operating. This happened as a result of the Marquette vs. First Omaha Services Supreme Court Case. So even though a person might live in NY state where the cap is say 15%, if the credit card company is based in South Dakota where there is no cap the consumer can end up paying 20%, 30%, or higher.

Posted by: bushflipflops at July 9, 2006 4:18 PM
Comment #166167

I always wondered why so many credit card companies have their payment centers in Sioux Falls, S.D.

Posted by: ulysses at July 9, 2006 4:41 PM
Comment #166172

Wilmington De. is also home to some of the highest credit card rate payment centers.

Posted by: David R. Remer at July 9, 2006 5:08 PM
Comment #166179

“This, BTW, is one problem even the most radioactive activists cannot blame on Bush. “

This not living within one’s means is obviously the fault of Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and all the other lunatic neo-cons—look at the federal debt, and George smirking about his base being “the haves and the have-mores.”

See? Being radioactive, hysterical, and down-right stupid and socialist, I can blame Bush for anything.:-)

Posted by: Tim Crow at July 9, 2006 5:34 PM
Comment #166191

And the answer is…

More government regulation and oversight!

The government chooses which size house is right for you, where it shall be, and how many pets you can keep there. It shall also control how you spend your money, whether you are allowed to buy things on your credit card, and who you will marry.

It will be a wonderful utopia!

Posted by: Don at July 9, 2006 7:01 PM
Comment #166199

“It shall also control how you spend your money, whether you are allowed to buy things on your credit card….”

As long as you can spend more than you’re taking in, have no savings, and spend most of it on aircraft carriers and missle systems that don’t work, the police force and more prisons in your backyard, you’ll be fine.

As for the marriage thing, who knows, maybe the divorce rate will go down.:-)

Posted by: Tim Crow at July 9, 2006 7:26 PM
Comment #166202

Jack,

Great post! As an architect slowly working on towards the bigger picture of city and regional planning, or developement I am encouraged.

Sprawl is out of the bag. However if we look at our economic regions centering on major metropolitan areas that is where the action is. Planning at the regional level and including overlays of transportation, agricultural and ecolgical boundaries, and developement based on access to jobs and education is what is crucial now. There are a lot of Americans of all persuasions, as evidenced by the entries on this thread, that would enjoy living in walkable, green, and sociable communities with easy access to jobs, retail, parks, and entertainment but just aren’t being offered it by the ad hoc market.

People want quality of life and for many that includes not sitting in their car or having to shlep their kids around to “play dates” or soccer practice because that is their only choice.

Others are afraid more developement will ruin their quality of life. If it is more of the same we will continue to lessen the quality of life. As many of my fellow Californiand flee to other states bemoaning how things have gotten too expensive or crowded they don’t realize they are simply repeating the pattern for other states! No wonder some realtors in Oregon won’t show them property or residents of other western states recoil at the inflation well-heeled Californians are bringing to their home.

Good planning and design recognize that quality of life is what people really want, not a big suburban house. You should read (hard to find) Peter Calthorpe and William Fulton’s book The Regional City. Actually it is a lot to read but does highlight the appropriate scale needed for planning great places to live. BTW, A Pattern Language is a classic.

Posted by: chris2x at July 9, 2006 7:41 PM
Comment #166206

People do things that satisfy a need; for some that means big houses and expensive cars. If it’s vulgar, I might snicker, but I say let ‘em have their toys. God knows I like my own. Eco-feelings aside, if I could afford a Viper GTS, I’d buy one.

Post-hoc zoning restrictions seem unfair, and I’d certainly be pissed if I ended up the loser, but I don’t think completely inflexible zoning is in a community’s best interest. The balance between private and public interest is always tricky. I’m more concerned, frankly, with the erosion of privacy because I think privacy rights are more important than property rights.

Posted by: Trent at July 9, 2006 7:56 PM
Comment #166229

Interestingly, I worked on George Bush, Sr’s house. It was quite large. It filled the entire lot, though, which wasn’t very large. It’s in a very exclusive urban area.

The great thing about Houston is there are no zoning laws at all.

I totally disagree with this post. Let the market decide. This IS a free market. I worry about the effects of “urban planners” who shell out grants and tax breaks along with imminent domain to rich developers for the “good” of the community.

The Houston Chroncile recently had two articles about the scams developers locally have used to get government welfare. One uses grants and taxbreaks to develop highspeed internet in “rural” areas. The developments are for $200,000- $400,00 houses.

The other uses farm subsidies to get rice stipends to developments by using multi acre tracts. These homeowners are paid for not growing rice in their huge estates.

Those damn Republican white angry men on welfare!!!

Posted by: gergle at July 9, 2006 9:05 PM
Comment #166233

Different topic. One of the sources suggested by Jack discusses prospects for inflation and the economy. It is pretty conventional in its outlook. The article ignores the stimulative fiscal policy which continues to be pursued by congressional Republicans & Bush. It also ignores the federal debt, the annual deficit, the trade deficit, the effects of a falling dollar, and the inability of an economy in recovery to create jobs.

Most interesting is the way the article ignores oil prices.

The author, Makin, recognizes the effects of oil prices on the economy to date; he recognizes it is showing up in core CPI now, and that the Federal Reserve will continue to raise rates. Again, this is conventional stuff.

He blithely makes an implicit assumption: oil prices will not increase further, therefore the economy can be projected along with all the other conventional guesses of supporters of Bush policy.

However, examining oil price trends- the technical underpinnings, if you like that kind of thing- shows prices have steadily increased from $35 to $75 over the past two years.

At this rate, oil will hit $100 by the end of 2007.

What could prevent this?

Discovery of large new fields would help, but that has not been happening. In addition, there is no way they can be brought to production fast enough to matter.

Conservation and alternative energies would help. Unfortunately, the Bush administration and the Republican Congress have little interest in pursuing this course.

Defusing international tensions would help immensely, but again, it seems unlikely. Iraq and fear of an attack on Iran will not abate.

Continued price increases, caused by continually increasing demand, especially from China, ensure inflation will receive future boosts from rising oil prices.

The potential for suprise seems to be higher prices sooner rather than later.

Posted by: phx8 at July 9, 2006 9:53 PM
Comment #166245

now this is a funny one, when we came out to california in the 1950s from new york state, my dad and his brother, had for many years the largest union sheet metal and Air conditioning company in so cal. my dad the democrat, and my uncle the goldwater Republican.who always had the biggest car and house and everything else? my uncle the goldwater Republican!.who worked the hardest my dad.who saved for a rainy day, my dad.

Posted by: Rodney Brown at July 9, 2006 10:52 PM
Comment #166247

Tom Schofield:

One force that may reverse the “McMansion” trend is the aging of the Baby Boom generation. The first wave of this 77 million strong cohort turns sixty this year. In retirement, most of these folks will require housing that is easy - and inexpensive - to maintain.


Interesting comment - our local paper, the Ft Worth Star-Telegram, today had a long article on the dramatic increase in townhouse construction in the suburbs; how it was resisted at first but is in high demand by …. aging baby boomers. And all of the boomers commented that they were sick of all the stuff they had accumulated and tired of maintaining gigantic homes.

I think there is a backlash going on in places against McMansion-itis, the 4000 square foot-plus homes built to the very edges of a .2 acre lot. Where I live, in the Dallas Ft Worth area, this is all that’s available: big houses on tiny lots with Godzilla-accomodating entries and cathedral ceilings. All built to impress, but hardly homey.

Check out Sarah Susanka’s books, including The Not So Big House. Her ideas are a welcome smack on the side of the head.

Posted by: pianofan at July 9, 2006 11:27 PM
Comment #166257

It’s yard size that surprises me with regards to the difference between old houses and new ones. The Houses where I live aren’t too large, but the yards are quite substantial.

The reverse is true for new houses, built two stories high with postage stamp sized yards. I prefer the old style, especially with all the greenery. My neighborhood is positively lined with trees, and the houses don’t look like clones off an assembly line.

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at July 10, 2006 1:17 AM
Comment #166262

Stephen,

I think the Rapture may be upon us, as you and I agree about yard size. I grew up in a 2,000 square foot home with a brother and sister. We had a decent sized yard and got lucky in that our nieghbor owned 5 acres right behind us. In addition to that, we had a large woods with a creek right behind that so we had room to go out and have fun.

One distressing thing I’ve noticed with many of the McMansions that goes back to my first post on this subject is the distressing breakdown of family time in these houses. For my part, I don’t own a house as the military keeps me on the go, and I’m not married and have no children. I expect this to change in the future, and when it does, I have a few simple rules I intend to follow, no matter how much money I have.

My children will not have a television, telephone, or computer in their room. There will be one TV and one computer in the house and it will be in the living or family room where I can keep an eye on it. Dinner will be eaten as a family, not with everybody in their rooms. My children won’t be allowed to vegetate on the couch watching TV if its a nice day outside, and if they’re sent to their room, it will actually be a punishment, not just an excuse to play video games.

Too many poarents worry more about being their children’s freinds than their parents. I used to resent my father for not allowing me a TV etc in my room and thought he was a jerk. As I got older, it distressed me to realize that he seemed smarter and smarter. I guess he did his job well. We talk now more on an equal basis, but I never forget to respect him as he taught me and appreciate all that he did for me.

Too many of the children of these McMansion yuppies that I’ve seen are spoiled to the point of amazement. Parents nowadays seem more interested in being thier child’s friend than their parent, and it does no good to anyone. We as a society need to shape up for the sake of our children’s future. Giving them everything they want just because it can be afforded gives a false sense of entitlement and destroys work ethic. Not sure how I got to here from commenting on my preference for a large yard, but oh well.

Posted by: 1LT B at July 10, 2006 2:09 AM
Comment #166284

Our culture has always put a very high value on privacy and personal space. In my neighborhood in Redwood City, California I notice a big difference between American families and families from other cultures. Families from Europe, Latin America or Asia tend to do a lot more of their living as a family. Often they look for large houses, what we might call monster houses because they want to live with extended families: grandparents, uncles and aunts in addition to their nuclear group. THey have a lot more backyard parties and social gatherings than native born people, too. We would do well to learn by their example. The current situation as discussed in this blog is the result of the ‘me’ generation and those that have followed it putting privacy above all else. Technology has also fueled the movement away from social contact: PC’s, iPods, cell phones. All wonderful inventions, but unfortunately with the terrible side effect of allowing us to retreat into our own little worlds far too much. Instances of the disintegration of our social skills and civility, direct results of this trend, can be seen each day in our media.

Posted by: monimac8 at July 10, 2006 9:46 AM
Comment #166304

Jack,

I don’t get your point(s). Are you complaining that people with big houses don’t live a life style that you think would be better for them? Or even though you are a freemarket fanatic you propose reducing property values by modifying zoning restrictions? Or are you simply looking to live in the past when idealized small town America was a Rockwell painting?
BTW1; I’ve noticed that most people who “dislike big ostentatious houses” are thoe ones who can’t afford one.
BTW2; I was hoping you would be complaining about the unnecessary waste of resources and the negative impacts on the environment from conspicuous consumption.
BTW3; Zoning is mostly a local matter. Mass transit by virture of its size and cost is usually a state or national issue.

Posted by: Dave1 at July 10, 2006 12:18 PM
Comment #166312

Doesn’t part of the American dream include having the freedom to chose where you wish to live, what you wish to live in and why you wish to live in that place?
Why must we spend so much time worrying about how big of a house others live in or how big of car they drive?
Isn’t being able to live your life as you wish and allowing others to do the same, what freedom is all about?

Posted by: kctim at July 10, 2006 12:57 PM
Comment #166317

kctim,

“Why must we spend so much time worrying about how big of a house others live in or how big of car they drive?”

Frankly, I don’t really care how big my neighbor’s house is, as long as it doesn’t block my view.
As for the size of my neighbor’s car;
IMHO when the size of the vehicle goes up the driving skills and attention span seem to go down.
Driving around in a “tank” sized SUV seems to lull the driver into a false sense of invulnerability to the detriment of those around them.

Posted by: Rocky at July 10, 2006 1:15 PM
Comment #166320

Well said Rocky.
But your view and your opinion are no reason to deny a person the right to achieve the American dream, no matter how grand that dream may be.
Thats what HOA’s were made for.

Posted by: kctim at July 10, 2006 1:33 PM
Comment #166335

Lauren,

The Dems are as much to blame as the Republicans with this situation. Lots of Union Workers building these houses. Lots of Dems running the city and county governments. They like to have the local property taxes too.

Posted by: Doug at July 10, 2006 2:05 PM
Comment #166342

kctim,

“But your view and your opinion are no reason to deny a person the right to achieve the American dream, no matter how grand that dream may be.”

I assumed that from my opinion you would understand that I don’t give a rat’s ass how the rich spend their money, as long as it doesn’t affect my view.
As I said before, I sometimes work on “Home Integration” projects.
If they want to waste their money on grandiose edifices, it means more money for me.

Posted by: Rocky at July 10, 2006 2:24 PM
Comment #166353

Doug,

Isn’t it the illegal aliens building those houses? BTW, where do those fat lazy blue collar union guys get their money to build those McMansions anyway?

Posted by: Dave1 at July 10, 2006 2:48 PM
Comment #166382

1LT B
Your post July 10, 2006 02:09 AM.
I’m with you on your idea of TVs, phones, and computers. No one need more than one of each. Although sometime a second phone, not phone line, does come in handy.
The family that eats together stays together.
My parents insisted that we all eat together when we were growing up. We all live in different parts of the country now but we’re still very close.
My wife and I insisted that we all ate together when the kids were growing up. They’re all still very close.
I believe one reason for this is because we all ate together.
And we’re insisting that we eat together now that we have grand youngins with us.
The family dinner table is the one place where everyone is in one place at the same time. It’s the perfect time to teach your youngins. It’s also a time to listen to their dreams and encourage them to go after them.
I believe that parents that insist that the family eats together know their children better than the ones that let their kids eat in front of the TV or computer and/or whenever they want.
It was at the dinner table where we learned that our son wanted a career in the Air Force. Our oldest daughter wanted to be a teacher. My baby sister wanted be a jeweler. Our second daughter wanted to be a nurse. Daughter three wanted to be a lawyer. And our youngest told us she wants to be an accountant.
So your sure on the right track.
Besides like Momma used to say. “I ain’t runnin no restaurant here. Y’all eat at meal time or don’t eat don’t eat at all.”

Posted by: Ron Brown at July 10, 2006 5:39 PM
Comment #166451

Who are you to tell anyone else how to live? This is America. I had 6 brothers and 3 sisters. I now have a bathroom with 2 sinks and my child has his own bathroom. I love space….

Posted by: Dan at July 10, 2006 9:42 PM
Comment #166456

Dave
Re zoning - I would make it less intrusive. I would eliminate the requirement to provide parking for buildings and ease density restrictions. I would also ease restrictions the limit the mixed use neighborhoods.

You are right that I don’t particularly like the spread out nature of newer U.S. suburbs. That, however, is only my preference and I would not impose it on others. All that I advocate is that others do not impose their vision on me through zoning and other restrictions. This spread out nature of U.S. cities is largely the result of regulations that encourage it. Developers would generally prefer denser communities and people would like to live there. I am not taking favellas or tenements, just a nice semi-urban suburb. People like them. The evidence is that older suburbs (or former suburbs) are now the most sought after and pleasant places to live.

Putting one house on a five or ten acre lot is a waste, yet many zoning laws REQUIRE that. Let people live like that if they want, but give others options.

Re affording ostentatious houses - I could afford a bigger house, but I don’t need one. Instead I bought myself 178 acres of forestland. It cost about the same as two extra bedrooms, a two-car garage (and a new SUV to fill it) on an acre in my fairly expensive suburban county, and I like it better. I think I made a good decision. Others can do what they want, but I don’t want to hear them complaining that they are strapped for cash, devoid of time and stuck in a soul sucking rat race. It is where they chose to be. If they like it, that is fine. If not, they should have just said no.

You probably heard the old saying that if you are not a socialist when you are 20 you have no heart, but if you are still a socialist when you are 40 you have no brain. This is not true all the time. I know lots of good hearted young free marketers and some smart old socialists, but I think it speaks to experience. In the course of a lifetime, you see the results of smart and dumb choices. People make dumb choices that make their lives less pleasant. Each decision builds on the others until the result look inevitable. I know lots of people unhappy in their big houses and worried about big mortgages. There it is.

Posted by: Jack at July 10, 2006 9:59 PM
Comment #166472

Jack, I agree with this post. Always nice when that rare event occurs, eh?
Btw, I’ve met and chatted with Christopher Alexander a couple of times (he’s based in the Bay Area) — and he’s not only a brilliant architect, but also seemed like a pretty nice guy overall.
I agree that ‘A Pattern Language’ is a truly excellent book.

I also agree with Stephen who wrote:

“The Houses where I live aren’t too large, but the yards are quite substantial.

The reverse is true for new houses, built two stories high with postage stamp sized yards. I prefer the old style, especially with all the greenery. My neighborhood is positively lined with trees, and the houses don’t look like clones off an assembly line.”

Same here. As my husband and I recently moved into a house of our choosing, where (for the first time in our lives) cost was not the only deciding factor, what you are describing is actually our preference.
My idea of the perfect home has always been a little Craftsman Bungalow loaded with charm and unique details, with a big yard, and a large outbuilding, on a tree-lined street, close to public transportation. This is almost exactly what my husband and I bought — all we have to do is tear down the ancient old shed, and build the outbuilding. I could bore all of you with all the details, but I won’t! :^)
Who wants a big McMansion? IMO, it’s a complete waste: of money, trees, energy, and ego. Besides, those things tend to be hideously ugly. A little house is easy to keep clean (I’m a bit of a neat freak about my living space), a big yard is a joy (I like to garden), and so is a big outbuilding (if one is the creative type who needs a place to get messy in — a key component for a carpenter/musician, and an artist/gardener!:^)

Posted by: Adrienne at July 11, 2006 12:38 AM
Comment #166480

This article really hit the nail on the head for for me today. WHEN DID IT BECOME A “SIN” TO OWN A USED CAR?

For me, that means a 1988 Volvo 240, 125K miles, some nicks and dings, but very safe, reliable and could go another 125K miles! (yeah, I bought up used).

I live in a nice California suburb (and no, not West Hollywood or where even a minor celebrity might live).

I got pulled over today for non-working break lights. The police officer, although pleasant, stated he would let me go this time, but if it wasn’t due to a broken bulb or a fuse, “I might just consider junking it and getting myself a new car!!!” (with slight look of pity on his face and srunched up nose in the direction of my car).

My middled aged mind quietly shouted, but my 3/4’s of a million dollar home is paid for! (of course that’s not what I paid for it, but that’s CA real estate for you); I have central A/C! (always on 78 degrees); paid for nice timeless furniture; and am in the process of renovating my 2 bathrooms and can’t decide b/t granite or quartz vanity tops (b/c that’s where I’ll get my money back when I retire and decide to downsize).

I cut up my credit cards and pay CASH for almost everything, (which is why my bath renovation will take 2 years to complete, instead of taking out a 2nd).

My employer matches my 401K up to $5000 annually, and I try diligently to pay myself first.

I think I got “dissed” and judged today b/c my car isn’t “GLAMOROUS” enough by a generation X cop.

And, I’ll admit it, I’m a baby boomer whose first car was hand me down from my parents, a ‘74 Chey Impala (b/c my parents ONLY bought American made), no hub caps, lots of dents, torn up seats (springs and all), BUT I WAS GRATEFUL and really had allot of fun in that car, and so did my other baby boomer friends. I don’t think any of us owned a “new” car in our teens or 20’s. My best friend had a used Vega (lol) and the other a used Charger.

But, we’re all educated, home owners, some are parents putting kids through “good” colleges, and some are looking into purchasing vacation homes in preparation for retirement.

SO THERE YOU GENERATION X’ers and Y’ers! : p

Posted by: Xristen07 at July 11, 2006 1:46 AM
Comment #166491

P.S.

In CA, only celebrities, rap artists and nouveau riche immigrants (many illegal) are buying or building the “Mac Mansions” and driving the new, flashy, gold plated grill euro cars, and don’t realize they are being laughed at instead of us laughing with them.

Posted by: Xristen07 at July 11, 2006 2:34 AM
Comment #166522

I have to say I, as an architect, am pleasantly surprised to hear all of the thoughtful comments putting together the effects of space and the home on the quality of family life. This thread also shows if we take a breath libs and conservatives have a lot in common regarding feelings on family values, the effects of a materialistic culure, etc.

Thanks Jack

Posted by: chris2x at July 11, 2006 10:00 AM
Comment #166524

The problem with the free market and the vision of large homes or large lots is the big picture or larger pattern this creates. Creating more car dependence, longer commutes, more social isolation, concentrated poverty, built-in consumption of resources, etc is the result of this suburban vision. It’s not that they do not have their place but sprawling just makes life inefficient and for many of our fellow citizens more difficult.

I have the same problem with many of my fellow environmentalists. Most environmentalists want to be near the green stuff but if everyone built their straw-bale home on an acre or more 5 miles from the nearest store, school, or job you still have to get in your car to get a quart of milk . Export that pattern to the world and we would have a sprawling ecological nightmare much greater than we do now. Manhattan of all places probably represents the most ecological living with its energy efficient apartments, walkable streets, efficient public transit, nearby stores, jobs, and restaurants, etc.

The solution lies mostly somewhere inbetween. And although walkable towns with a variety of transportation choices (foot, bike, car, transit) is in demand not too many developers are creating it or are being thwarted by town planners and local politics.

The challenge for architects, planners, and citizens is how do we work as much green, quiet, and privacy into our cities so we can enjoy easy access to all we need for young and old while able to have the peace and quiet many of us also enjoy.

Posted by: chris2x at July 11, 2006 10:18 AM
Comment #166548

First, Great article Jack. Perhaps you are becoming more liberal, but I think you have just found a neutral subject that needs to be addressed, well discussed.

Zoning laws, for decades now, have actually been decreasing our options on how americans build. The size of a standard zoning regulated lot has gone up. Where I live the existing lot size is 50’x100’but the current zoning requirement is 75’x100’. I have been looking around the country and lot sizes have defintely been smaller in other areas. Couple this with zoning restrictions that seperate commercial, business and residential uses and you have the recipie for “sprawl”. True americans want bigger and better everything, but this is not all that drives the market to bigger homes. Me, I design homes, so these big mini-mansions are my bread and butter. I also know friends and associates who build homes. The small home has been driven off the market by both cost relationships and lenders perspectives. To eleaborate, a building lot costs $15K and the hard costs of building (permitting, impact fees, utility hookup fees, clearing and fill) cost $30K, before you even put up stick one your home has cost $45K (theoretically). Now actual building cost vary but a portion of getting the trades to show up is fixed, such that if building costs average $60 per square foot for a 2000 sq ft home the sq ft cost of a 1000 sq ft home may be $80 per sq ft. so that your 50% smaller house cost you 80% of the larger house. Now the mortgage lender wants a garuanteed return on thier money and will not give you a loan on a small house without all the amenities. That is how houses get forced into being built bigger, at least to a point.

For those posters who think Jack is calling for new zoning restrictions, you are wrong. What is needed is more types of zoning catagories that allow different situations. Right now I percieve that zoning laws are restrictive, and I would like changes that would allow differnt types of buildings. Property values are a funny thing. True a pig farm next to your suburban home might bring the value down, but having a cinema and restaurants within walking distance will likely increase your value. where I live, having a single family home has great value. Having a second living quarter increases that value. And that increased value increases the SFH’s value.

Should we all live in smaller houses? No. Should we choose our housing sizes more accordingly to our needs? Big fat grey area. After all those who need the space may not be able to afford the space. Me, myself need more space. Well, I need project space. 1000 sqft of living may be plenty, but I need 5000 sqft of garage, office and workshop to go with it. Lot sizes? Depends on location and life style. Live in A/C never going outdoors? Try a tiny lot with a huge house. Like to garden, live on the patio? A tiny house on a small lot, or a huge house on a huge lot. I like how Jack complains, “Putting one house on a five or ten acre lot is a waste” and then goes on to say, “I could afford a bigger house, but I don’t need one. Instead I bought myself 178 acres of forestland.” Hypocrite!!! Actually I am jealous. The point here is we, as americans, need to step back and look at our choices for both ourselves and our enviroment. And we need the opportunity for more choices.

Posted by: GMDuggan at July 11, 2006 12:32 PM
Comment #166553

Ron Brown,

Its amazing how something so simple as eating together as a family now seems like some archaic tradition. Yet the more things change, the more our traditions seem to make sense. It seems so ironic to me that in the “Information Age” we have so many ways to avoid actual human contact and interaction. Cell phones, iPods, etc all devices that are supposed to help us communicate seem more and more to get in the way of actaully speaking to our fellow human beings.

Chris2X,

Good point about suburban living. I saw a special one time on PBS I think about the sprawl problem around Philadelphia. As a way of contrasting this, they discussed city planning in England, which emphasized the walkable cities such as you talk about. As a history major, I suggest they look back even further to Roman city planning, where cities (except, notably, for Rome itself) were designed in totality from the beginning. Space was left for markets, temples, the Forum, entertainment venues, etc. More importantly, the cities were contained and limited in their population to keep from overtaxing the surrounding farmland and also to keep from overtaxing the water, sewer, and other services that gave Romans a higher standard of living than Europe would see until the 1800s.

While America still has plenty of land (India has over 3 times our population in half of the land area), if we want to keep some family farms, parks, and wild spaces in the future, I think your idea of a walking town is a good thing. Its my understanding that they’ve actually put up a few of these, and they seem to work by all accounts. Hopefully this trend catches on. It would be better for us as it would help establish a community while also benefitting the environment.

Posted by: 1LT B at July 11, 2006 12:49 PM
Comment #166569

All interesting and good points, but I’d like address posts by:

1) GMDUGGEN: It’s simply a matter of preference and how we grew up whether we want to live around “open space” and live self sufficently kinda like the Amish VERSUS living more communally w/ denser mixed planning. Also, as to the cost of building, you didn’t address PRE-FAB construction in which they can literally put together a home on a lot in 7 days. It’s cheaper, more efficient and really taking off in our beach areas in CA. They can do modern, they can do traditional.

2) CHRIS2X: Same as above b/t those who prefer “open space” in the country/suburbs to those who like the density in an “urban setting”:. Some of us have the talent and like being home self sufficient, some find it a chore and anti-social.

Chris2x: Did you read where Cindy Crawford (super model who married another super model and entrepeneur, and who can live any where they chose and do), but are being sued by their very wealthy Manhattan neighbors because they can hear her toilet flushing?????? So, while true, Manhanttan might sound like it represents the “most ecological living”, extremely dense living space can bring out this type of weird behavior. Remember 9th grade science class, where 2 mice were put in a box, left to grossly multiply, and the end resulted in them killing each other b/c density bred hostile behavior?

Posted by: Xristen07 at July 11, 2006 2:13 PM
Comment #166575

1LT; “Its amazing how something so simple as eating together as a family now seems like some archaic tradition.”

Says who? We eat together every night. That will continue as long as our kids live in our house. The same is true for almost all our friends, two exceptions. Why do so many people talk in platitudes so much of the time, as if some L/R pundit “knows” what everyone else is doing, or that some example represents a population?

Posted by: Dave1 at July 11, 2006 2:30 PM
Comment #166576

Xristen07;

Don’t forget the increase in homosexual behavior at increasing densities of rats. Or do they no longer teach that since it “must be a lie and part of the homosexiual agenda”?

Posted by: Dave1 at July 11, 2006 2:32 PM
Comment #166582

I got asked the other day how I managed to raise 6 kids in a 1500 sq ft home. I told the person, who was complaining that her 4850 sq ft home was to small for her family of 4, that at times we had as little as 650 sq ft. But we had the important factor of more contact with our children. And they had more contact with each other.
I have no problem with folks buying large houses if they want them. I feel though that the more space the less contact that families have with each other. I feel this contributes to the break down of the family.

Posted by: Ron Brown at July 11, 2006 2:50 PM
Comment #166583

Dave1, when/if you take probability and statistics, you will recognize that Xersten was speaking about a social trend, born out by population sampling research. It is illogical to argue from an anecdote such as your example to the general population, as you attempt to do in your criticism of Xersten’s comment.

Posted by: David R. Remer at July 11, 2006 2:54 PM
Comment #166584

OK Dave1, I can appreciate the sarcasm, but we have all had civil and very intelligent posts on urban planning and effects on our lives and society. Do you have anything substantive to add other than that one little jab?

Posted by: Xristen07 at July 11, 2006 2:56 PM
Comment #166590

I am not quite sure, but i think some are missing the point, it is about choice! around here we have had a building boom going on the last five years.and all the new tract houses start at 2500 sq ft,and go up to 5000sq ft and a postage stamp size yard. now the zoning law says only 5 ft to the fence so your neighbor is only 10 ft from your house, and your bathroom and everything else! so i can’t deal with that. hey if the other fella does fine with me. but i have a choice, I like stephen, like my land, almost 1 acre ,and yards i planted 55 rose bushes. i could care less about the pool but it came with the house , this house was built in 1978 and has a cape cod style, and was custom built. my neighbor on the north is 60 ft away and the neighbor on the south is 30 ft away, i am on a hill, 675 ft up, and have a good veiw, they did not remake the hill, but went with the natural lay of the land.i can see mt Rubidoux from my back, and i am looking at the top of lions head hill at 956 ft high.and like i said before i bought this as a complete fixer 5 years ago at $168,000 and me and my wife spent five years of hard work. why did they call it lions head hill? , everybody was wondering three years ago that the dog and cat population was going down in this area, then about two years ago i was out front working in the yard and a truck with a hunter on the front went by and went up the hill and bang. a 200lb male mountain lion. so much for trying to relocate the lion.

Posted by: Rodney Brown at July 11, 2006 3:33 PM
Comment #166592

Xristen,

Wow! Tales of supermodel toilets and cannibal mice! It is amazing what different people expect or why hearing a toilet flush is so disturbing (I don’t think supermodels eat that much do they?). Fortunately, that is easily correctable. Continuing sprawling developement patterns is more difficult to correct.

I don’t think density in cities relates strongly to pathology as other factors such as concentrated poverty. Even then, I don’t hear of too many welfare participants eating each other (except for Jonathan Swift’s modest proposal). Of course over-excited reactionaries will say its probably because welfare recipients are cheating and having steak.

Anyway, obviously Manhattan is not for everyone as it is not for me. For us architects it usually comes down to a question of design with the humbling examples of utopian urban redevelopement projects in the 50s and 60s as a reminder of how not to do things. Europe, for example, is coming up with the next generation of high-rises complete with natural ventilation and even multi-story parks in the middle of them. It remains to be seen how successful they will be. I for one think there are better alternatives for more low-rise and human scaled neighborhoods with proximity to transit and open space.

Hey Dave1, at least according to “Deliverance” poverty and rural life create some rather nasty homos. Maybe you can work those things into your next homophobic post.

Posted by: chris2x at July 11, 2006 4:02 PM
Comment #166596

Xristen,

Oh, density has very little to do with “weird” behaviour, you just have more weirdos per acre. You should see what some neighbors to a project believe is their right or power over a project even if it is identical in use to their own. I’ve heard it all from the color of window frames to calling a residence inappropriate for a hillside when their house is on the exact same slope! Having more time and money than is good for one tends to bring it out more.

Essentially, the same zoning and regulations are there for everyone to follow. If you don’t like the zoning don’t purchase property there. If one doesn’t like it one can get the regulations changed but one doesn’t have power over a neighbors’ property just because one doesn’t like something.

Posted by: chris2x at July 11, 2006 4:19 PM
Comment #166597

1LtB,

Thanks. I think walkable towns add greatly to quality of life. I’ve heard of some studies that show that because of less automobile trips per capita many city neighborhoods ridden with crime are safer for kids than their more affluent suburban counterparts largely due to child/autobmobile collisions.

Also, when walkable developement is centered around transit the costs for taxpayers to maintain transit, roads, sewers, water, police, fire, etc goes down. Sprawl is often a problem for communities because the cost of infrastructure and services is more than tax reveunue provided. Some communities respond to this by overzoning for a commercial tax base while others zone for large, very low-denisty lots for wealthy residents. The results are often more sprawl, too many tax breaks for corporations between competing cities, and more concentrated poverty (which often means more crime and a drain on the economy of region).

Posted by: chris2x at July 11, 2006 4:24 PM
Comment #166611

Ron Brown, do you think you will build a new one someday, and hows that damn kudzu!and we have plenty of Rattlers the southern pacific, and western diamondback, and hawks to eat those bad old mice!

Posted by: Rodney Brown at July 11, 2006 5:00 PM
Comment #166631

Rodney
We have no plans of building a new house. The one we have is in excellent condition and at 1500 feet is plenty big enough for a family of five. Right after we built it we had 8 living in it with no problem. Reckon 5 won’t have any problem. The kids lived in a 1200 feet house with 1 bathroom before coming here. Now they have 1500 feet and 2 1/2 baths. Except their Grand Momma says they ain’t using the one in the Master Bedroom.
I’ve fenced off the woods where the kudzu is and have put 200 goats on it. They’re in the process of eating everything that they get in their mouths. At the rate their going they’ll have it cleared in around a year.
Our grandson learned about turning his back on a billy the other day. He wasn’t hurt but it sure surprised him.
We’ve got plenty of Rattlers here too. Shot one about a week ago out by the equipment shed. Tasted pretty good too. Also have a lot of Cotton Mouths around here. Never ate one of them though.

Posted by: Ron Brown at July 11, 2006 6:21 PM
Comment #166679

David, et. al.
What study are you aware of that says people don’t eat dinner together anymore? It may be true for the entire population but not in my subset. In fact, I remember my dad missing alot of dinners as I grew up.

Xristin, et. al.
I need to clarify; In high school, as part of science, we did a review of one of the first studies on the effects of increasing population densities (early days of urban sprawl problems). Three of the effects I remember of hi rho were withdrawl/depression, agression and homosexual behavior. My reference to the disappearance of item (3) was a real complaint about the hate of gays by the religious right and Reagans impact into the teaching what the right thinks is their “politically correct” instead of actual truth. I was not being homophobic.

Posted by: Dave1 at July 11, 2006 8:42 PM
Comment #167173

Isn’t it amazing what happens when people are forced to deal with one another on a regular basis? I never understood why it was so important to people to have so much personal space. It just makes you more reclusive. Reclusivity breeds an inability to understand issues outside of your bubble. Sort of explains a lot about recent times if you think about it.

I remember there was a time when you could go into someones yard to retrieve a baseball and not get shot with rock salt.

All well, I’m sure the solution is to build a bigger wall, soundproof the houses, have everyone drive a personal bus to work, and give everyone guns in case they do run into someone else at some point.

Posted by: Kevin23 at July 13, 2006 3:59 PM
Comment #167418

Kevin,

people are social animals. Isolation, see solitary confinement in prisons for example, is similarly destructive.

Posted by: Dave1 at July 14, 2006 12:57 AM
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