Crappy Houses

Hans Fugal hans at
Sun Jun 22 17:35:28 MDT 2008

Dave Smith wrote:

> Excellent point. I had not considered that. Perhaps my neighborhood has 
> survived precisely because it was higher quality from the get go. I 
> still doubt that it was on the upper end of the price spectrum, though. 
> I would love to get a glimpse at the McMansion neighborhoods near me 50 
> years in the future.

I've refrained so far, since I just don't have the passion for it that 
you guys do. But I'll pitch in here. Many more than 50 years ago in 
Rhode Island there was a factory boom. I don't know who (the government? 
the factories? independent developers?) but someone built a lot of very 
nearly identical two story houses in what is now known as Central Falls. 
The city is 1.3 square miles with over 7000 housing units (2000 census), 
and as one who walked the city daily for some 7 months I can testify 
those are all houses, not apartments. They are rectangular 2 or 3 story 
houses, now (if not originally) divided into one or two housing units 
per floor. They would put any Utah McMansion to shame in terms of 
tastelessness and low quality, not to mention lack of yard and curb 
appeal. The McMansions would only win out on the appearance of glamour.

I helped build the house I grew up in, and I saw the inside of more than 
a few Central Falls homes (and other homes/apartments in RI and 
Connecticut), and I don't mind telling you that if you think low-quality 
housing is a recent or localized phenomenon you have been smoking too 
many cowpies. Unfortunately low-quality housing will last a lot longer 
than anyone will want it to (except the person owning it, arguably).

Remember the three little pigs? Why would we have a fairy tale exhorting 
people to work hard and build sturdy houses if all houses were of such 
high quality since the dawn of man until the greedy developers and 
ignorant proud Americans came around?

I think it may be a recent phenomenon in Utah though. First there were 
pioneers who made do with what they had, and then when they got 
established they built nice homes out of the material available (hint: 
lots of dirt with good clay content and not a lot of wood == brick). In 
our modern world, locality isn't as important, you can get lumber in a 
desert and we have all kinds of technology like plastics and siding that 
is cheaper than brick. Land didn't used to be scarce in Utah, now it is 
very. I think what we see is what one would expect to see, especially 
given the history of large families in Utah. (People that come from 
large families probably subconsciously seek out large homes because 
that's what they grew up with, whether or not they plan to have a large 
family themselves.) Plus, in our day who really wants to keep up a yard? 
Not as many people.

Anyway, my take on it is it's a crying shame that people are dumb but 
it's not news. It's a crying shame that Utah is filling up and space is 
limited, limiting your choices (or forcing you to a longer commute), but 
it is.

Utah is experiencing growing pains similar to what California has (still 
is?) previously. It wants to continue being western, avoiding vertical 
growth (except perhaps downtown SLC). It really doesn't have the 
cultural history to support high-density population, but it's beginning 
to become a high-density area.

Someday people will look back at the McMansions as a quirk of history. 
Maybe an eyesore, maybe something interesting and quaint. Maybe it will 
even be emulated. Time's funny that way.

Hans Fugal ;

There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the
right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
     -- Johann Sebastian Bach

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