Before I begin this entry, I’m going
to come clean – I generally hate the giant modern homes that
so many people seem to love. “McMansions” generally make me
think the person buying or living in them are spoiled people
with more money than taste.
That’s not to say that I think a big house is automatically
indicative of some sort of creepy need to impress other
people, or because the people living there are greedy, although I
admit that those thoughts do cross my mind. I try not to
judge people I don’t know, so I generally try to avoid those
conclusions, but it’s hard sometimes.
Whatever my own feelings on the growing trend towards bigger
and bigger homes in this country, there’s no debate that new
houses are indeed getting much bigger over time.
I knew this intuitively, because I witnessed it happening as
I grew up. In the 70’s and 80’s a 2,000 square foot house
was considered large, and certainly large enough for a
family to comfortably live in. The only people I knew that
lived in bigger homes were a handful of folks that were
genuinely wealthy, and even in those cases, their homes were
usually smaller than the enormous new homes that many people
seem to prefer now.
These observations are not unique to my experience, it has
been studied in depth. A recent USA Today article makes note
of the fact that:
“At 2,306 square feet, the typical new home is about 50%
larger than its 1973 counterpart while the typical family is
10% smaller and the typical household 15% smaller.”
So, families are getting smaller, while house sizes are skyrocketing. A person born in the early 80’s to an upper
middle class family might not even realize that a house over
2,500 square feet was once considered very large, and
still IS a lot of space. As individuals we tend to believe
that what we grew up with is the norm, but that’s not always
the case. Many postwar homes built in the 1950’s and 1960’s
are less than 1,500 square feet, some a lot less. I myself
spent over fifteen years living in a two bedroom home in
Central Houston that was less than 700 square feet. With
roommates and significant others.
Somehow, I survived.
So it’s not that families CAN’T live happily in less
space, it’s that over time more people have become self-indulgent to the point that anything less than a 3,500
square foot McMansion with a media room and a “Great Room”
is somehow roughing it.
Now to me, I don’t have a problem with desiring more space.
It strikes me as a human need. We don’t do particularly
well crammed into really tight spaces, especially with
other people. But many of the newer home features that
people seem to want were once only in the homes of the
extremely wealthy. The cathedral ceilings and granite
countertops that new home buyers are attracted to these
days were rarities until relatively recently. Like most
trends, they will eventually fall out of favor too. But my
own taste aside, it’s not a desire for space or pretentious
sounding rooms (looking at you again, “Great Room”).
It’s the redevelopment of older neighborhoods.
OK, there’s a difference in slow gentrification of obviously
shitty neighborhoods. If you live in a area where it’s
easier to score a crack rock than it is to walk your dog,
then maybe gentrification is a good thing.
When it’s the case of a neighborhood where the main
cultural event is weekly cockfights, then there’s nothing
worse than seeing carpet bagger, scumbag developers start
to circle like buzzards. And if the neighborhood begins to
quickly become popular with upscale younger people, the old
residents are essentially fucked.
I’ve had the misfortune of dealing with quite a few developers in the process of redeveloping an area of older homes, and they have almost all been lying scum.
One recent specimen kept saying the mantra “I build good homes” sounding a lot like a man that beats his wife and kids but says he’s a good dad.
This particular developer was lying directly to my face and tried to build in a lot next to me without having permits approved yet. Real gem of. Human there.
This new breed of developer sees nothing but a quick buck, and they’ll do whatever they have to to get it. They have no concern for the neighborhoods they’re building in, they see their projects purely as a way to gather wealth for themselves.
Sadly, my hometown of Houston is a prime example of this at
its worst. Since the city doesn’t have zoning, and very few
neighborhood protection regulations, developers there
have been systematically reinventing the neighborhoods
closest to downtown for the last couple of decades.
Neighborhoods that were once working and middle class places
with small to medium sized homes with nice big yards, are
almost completely covered with hideous cookie cutter
“luxury” town homes and McMansions built ten feet from one
another, and covering the entire lot.
But hey! They have cathedral ceilings, great rooms, and a
“media center”! What more could some pathetic urban dweller
want or need? They certainly won’t need a yard, since most
of them never spend any appreciable time outside anyway.
It’s a waste of space to them, they could have a bigger
The problem is that this kind of redevelopment kills the
original personality of the neighborhood, and often that was
what attracted the first wave or two of yuppies to begin
On another related note, I find the attitudes of some people
who seem to feel entitled to the giant house to be puzzling.
A lot of the ones I’ve known have been tireless champions of
the poor and oppressed. Do they not see the hypocrisy in
wanting to live in an enormous luxury home that may have
displaced long time residents of lesser financial means? How
do they reconcile their pursuit of lowering their carbon
footprint when they also play into a trend that’s decreasing
any green space a neighborhood might have once had in
exchange for almost total concrete coverage?
There’s a disconnect there. Or a lack of self awareness. I’m
not sure which.
If a person has the means to buy a 10,000 square foot house
that’s not destroying the character of an older
neighborhood, or negatively affecting the environment, then
go for it. Build that sucker on two or three acres somewhere
and enjoy. But if you buy a house that’s over 3,000 square
feet big in a neighborhood where most of the other homes are
older ones that are a little more than a third of that size?
Then your house is the equivalent of a pushy asshole that
will get what he wants by any means he can.
Do you want to live in the house equivalent of the town
bully? I wouldn’t.