Rethinking Housing for a New Economy
Will the recent economic crisis fundamentally change the way Americans view housing? New Urbanists are betting that it will – and are seizing the opportunity to direct the conversation towards the benefits of smaller, more sustainable housing.
In an article in the New York Times this past weekend, Andrew Rice discussed the decline of the McMansion and the rising interest in smaller but smarter development. The article focused around Marianne Cusato’s “Home for the New Economy.” Cusato’s design, chosen as the 2010 “concept home” for the International Builders’ Show, sent ripples through the building community. While past years’ concept homes have sprawled as expansively as 6,000 square feet, the Home for the New Economy rings in at just 2,000 square feet. About the striking difference in square footage, Cusato, also the designer of the acclaimed Katrina Cottage, optimistically said, “We’re not going to go back to 2005. What was built then is not going to come back, and this is not a bad thing. What we were building was so unsustainable, and it didn’t really meet our needs.”
Others, however, are not so sure. Many believe that not even the bottoming-out of the housing market has curbed Americans’ desire for ever more square footage. Witold Rybczynski, University of Pennsylvania architecture professor, is quoted as saying, “Builders have tried quality rather than size, but they always fail. The market always says: We don’t care. If you’re giving us a smaller house, we don’t want it.” The article wonders whether Americans are really interested in rethinking “bigger is better,” or if they are just biding their time until the market rebounds. Are we too ingrained in a “dollars-per-square-foot” mindset to even begin to consider the actual quality of those square feet?
New Urbanists resoundingly respond that it’s not too late. Andrés Duany is cited as saying that suburbia, for a long time, has been moving in the wrong direction. The added private space, he says, has acted as a poor replacement for the community oriented public space often forgotten in suburban development -- "an exercise room substitutes for a park, a home theater for the Main Street cinema," the article states. Better suburban public spaces, Duany believes, are the answer. According to Rice, "Buyers will only accept smaller homes if their surroundings compensate them."
Despite the article's concerns that nothing will change, it's clear that New Urbanists are seizing this opportunity to show the benefits of smarter, more sustainable development. The success for the Home for the New Economy, and the ever-expanding interest in New Urbanism, proves that attitudes can shift.
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