Thursday, January 26, 2006

McMansion Madness

Did you hear that Atlanta has halted the teardown-McMansion syndrome that’s overtaking its popular intown neighborhoods?

As an Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Jan. 20 article reports, it’s a temporary moratorium that stops construction permits in five intown neighborhoods: north Buckhead, Virginia-Highland, Morningside-Lenox Park, Ansley Park-Sherwood Forest and Lake Claire. On Feb. 6 the Atlanta City Council will decide whether to extend the moratorium 120 days and study proposed regulations on height, how close to the street houses can be built, and how much a lot can be raised by adding dirt, among other things.

Dang right it’s controversial. One person’s so-called right to do whatever he or she wants with his or her property (to wit: building a 7,000-square-foot home to tower over the neighboring ranch houses, thus reducing them to the visual status of doghouses) collides with the so-called right not to have one’s historic neighborhood devastated by bloated, out-of-character houses. But is that really a right? (I’m pretty sure it isn’t, though it may well be an admirable and useful goal in some cases.)

What’s in Atlanta’s best interest, long-term? And should Charlotte consider anything similar?

To answer the second question first, yes – but qualified. Some of Charlotte’s most valuable, historic neighborhoods – Myers Park, Eastover and, to a lesser extent Dilworth – are being ravaged by teardowns. Parts of Dilworth are in a historic district. That can delay a teardown and requires new construction to try to fit in.

But old Myers Park is being dismantled, house by house. I wrote two years ago about the David Ovens home (yes, the auditorium is named for him) on Ardsley being demolished. The out-of-proportion 17,000-square-foot house on Queens Road West at Princeton has damaged that street's once harmonious proportions and has become the butt of numerous jokes. Those are just two examples among many.

Even more insidious if not as well-publicized is that smaller, older houses are often the targets. I know Myers Park is more expensive than a lot of neighborhoods, but it’s losing any vestiges of economic diversity, as the small and older houses are bulldozed. And the inflated property values are pushing taxes beyond the reach of people on fixed incomes. Wiser heads should step in, before one of Charlotte’s few nationally known neighborhoods is obliterated.

I don’t know if the answer is a historic district, as in Dilworth, or design review before construction (akin to what Atlanta seems to be proposing), or a neighborhood conservation district. I do know one of the city’s treasured neighborhoods is at risk.

But overall, are teardown McMansions a bad thing? A good thing? Inevitable?

It’s good for a city when lots of people want to live close in. It’s good for the taxpayers that the property values are being inflated – that may help make up for all those high-foreclosure neighborhoods where values are sinking. Better for us in Charlotte if those big, expensive houses are paying taxes here, not out in Weddington.

However it’s not good when neighborhoods lose economic diversity – which seems to be happening.

And it’s not good – it is, in fact, appalling – that perfectly good, solidly built houses are just being thrown away. I’ve been watching a two-story brick home on Wendover Road – the kind of house that when I was a kid, we used to daydream about living in – being knocked down and its remains carted away, presumably to the landfill. It’s a waste of natural resources that verges on criminal. This is a city with painful housing needs – hard-working people can’t find decent places to live that they can afford. But we’re simply throwing away houses – and all the wood, bricks and metal that were grown, dug up and mined to build them – at a time when houses are badly needed. Something’s bad wrong.

Should the whole process be stopped? Probably not, unless, as I said above, it’s destroying a historic neighborhood. However, the city should ease up on its single-family-only zoning requirements, so some of those $750,000 lots can be filled with duplexes or quadraplexes, instead of $2 million houses on steroids. That might keep a few somewhat-more-affordable places in those areas. And the city should require builders of teardown McMansions to build sidewalks if they're being built on streets that lack them, such as in Foxcroft and Cotwold. Obviously the extra few thousand for the sidewalks won't matter to the buyers.

Personally, I think those huge houses are just kind of weird. I mean, who in their right mind wants to look after 7,000 square feet of floors, furniture, trinkets and window treatments? (And what little kids really like to sleep so remotely from siblings and parents? Kids like togetherness.) Life's got too many fun things to do. Why shackle yourself to the upkeep of a monster house?

I keep hoping people will miraculously come to their senses. Maybe soaring heating, electrical and lawn-watering bills will get their attention. But then again, if $3-a-gallon gas hasn’t made folks rethink those idiotic and unsafe SUVs, I shouldn’t hold out hope. (Note: Nothing I’ve said about big houses applies to the occasional family with six or seven kids, who really needs all that space.)


Joseph LeBlanc said...

"(Note: Nothing I’ve said about big houses applies to the occasional family with six or seven kids, who really needs all that space.)"

Besides that most of those families seem to do well with less than half that space.

Anonymous said...

I agree with you about tearing down perfectly good houses to build these enormous houses is a bad thing. Your comment about unsafe SUVs is politically correct garbage that has nothing to do with houses. Try working for a wrecker service, then decide which vehicle to buy. What's next, putting bumper pads on trees so we won't hurt our tin can cars when we're talking on the cell phone and run off the road?

Anonymous said...

So I'm aware this largely has nothing to do with the post, but I have recently heard discouraging things about SUV safety. SUVs are unsafe not only for the passengers, but for OTHER motorists. I've heard that the danger for other motorists pretty much cancels out any safety gained by being in a large, rollover prone vehicle yourself. Examine these links, particularly the second one:

By the way, I've noticed liberals tend to say everything they don't agree with is closed-minded, and conservatives tend to say everything they don't agree with is PC nonsense! This is, of course, just a generalization, but it's funny to listen for!

Anonymous said...

This article really resonates with me. My boyfriend and I have decided that, should we ever get married, we're going to live in the smallest space we can be comfortable in. I've noticed a big difference being inside larger houses (not even 7,000 sq ft, but the so-called "smaller" larger homes being built now). It doesn't feel like a home, it feels like a building. There's something about an intimate space that makes a family feel like a family, I think.

Also, the waste of perfectly good houses IS tragic. I often wonder why those folks with that much money don't buy a normal house and give some money to people who cannot afford food in other parts of the world. But then I know a mother with a starving child in Africa would wonder why I had to buy a car (even though it's second hand) and go to an expensive college even though her baby can't eat. It's all about perspective, and it seems like the richer you are, the more money you think you "need" to live happily!

Personally, I think our capitalist society has gotten a bit carried away with itself, thinking mostly about money and forgetting about people. So I wouldn't mind some restrictions on personal freedoms (as long as we're not talking basic civil liberties, I guess it's hard to draw the line) to force people to be a bit more conscious of others.

I mean, if we let the market work everything out, some folks will be homeless and hungry, period, because the market is blind to the needs of the impoverished.

Anonymous said...

You don't really think the people who LIVE in those enormous houses maintain them do you? That's what the cleaning lady is for...and the nanny keeps the kids company in their far-off part of the McMansion.

Anonymous said...

Flip - flop - flip - flop

Stop sprawl move in town

Mandate a mix of price points for affordability in neighborhoods

Wait! don't move in town if you change it

And how strange it looks to see large houses (expensive) next to small houses (more affordable)

Hard to make general rules because where do they start and end. This blog has already veered off to SUV's, how much space do you truly need, does money make you happy, and application of governmental controls on our personal freedoms so we can all get along.

Pointing out why it is usually best not to conceed your freedoms despite the issues those freedoms occasionally raise.

Anonymous said...

Apparently Mary and a few others have forgotten that taste is a matter of taste. Merely because they just can't imagine why anyone would want to live in a large house ("large", I suspect, being defined as larger than the individual himself can afford), that perception takes on the character of some sort of lifestyle orthodoxy. They hope for an economic leveling: the desire that what is unaffordable for them will become unaffordable for others as well. On that blessed day Mary speculates that they will apparently "come to their senses" and fall in line with what she believes a person should want. (And we are indeed talking about wants, not needs. Our housing NEEDS are fairly basic and are exceeded in most cases by even the smallest and most basic of houses. Everything else is simply a matter of satisfying our wants. That's as true for Mary as it is for the occupants of those "too large" who she longs to see brought to their senses.)

What nonsense! There may be good reasons for wanting to preserve older homes and for preserving a more uniform character to a neighborhood, but Mary doesn't do much to make the case. Indeed her objection to out of scale structures doesn't seem to actually be consistent: the horrifying prospect of large dwellings isn't so horrifying if they're multi-family dwellings. Coult it be that the real issue is not the size of the dwelling so much s it is some sort of middle class elitism that holds that it's just tacky to be able to spend more?

Sure sounds like it.

Chilton said...

My question: Does the "freedom" of one land owner trump the "freedom" of an entire neighborhood that would prefer to maintain a certain character? Does the freedom of a large, out-of-town builder (who typically measures community by exchange value) count more than a coalition of neighbors hell-bent on preserving use-value?

If housing is a mere commodity, then the exchange value perspective wins. If housing is a component of less quantifiable assets (community, place, quality of life), then some entity needs to reign in amoral market forces.

Disgusted in Union Co said...

Typical...the "extreme property rights" folks always come out to play on topics such as this one, as usual accusing those who don't adhere to their wasteful orthodoxy of being "jealous". And, as usual, they forget that the concept of "property rights" does extend to those who simply want to live in their modest homes without having their home site destroyed by nearby hulking structures that block sunlight, cut off viewsheds, and cause flooding and runoff problems.

Just to draw even a bit more fire, let me say that Mary's inclusion of SUV's in the argument is indeed proper, because the symptoms are related. These are all "trophy" possesions. They are bought and consumed with complete indifference to any sort of understanding of the basic needs and responsibilities of a properly functioning society. It is, indeed, capitalism run amok, greed for greed's sake, "look at me, I'm rich".

That's fine, if you're into that sort of thing. But when you feel that your "right" to overconsume and flaunt your overconsumption is sacrosanct, then please buy your own island or your own 100-acre tract and build and drive your monstrosities where they don't destroy the quality of life of everybody around you. You'll still be doing your part to destroy earth's environment, but at least you'll leave the rest of us alone to some extent. It is truly a disgrace to see the wanton destruction of beautiful homes in a beautiful neighborhood just to assuage somebody's insecurity.

The entire capitalist system depends on its own checks and balances, and on its participants' adherance to certain social compacts. When it goes as far off the tracks as it so blatantly has in the form of the teardown craze, the system is devolving from capitalism into feudalism.

Kudos to the poster who encourages living in a smaller home, and finds the trophy houses to resemble commercial buildings rather than homes. And it goes far beyond a question of taste; these monstrosities consume enormous quantities of natural resources, from the quarried concrete ingredients to the wood that comes from rapidly depleting forests to the synthetics that are manufactured from petroleum. After that rape of the natural environment, these structures give the gift that keeps giving (or, really, "taking") as they result in the waste of millions of BTUs for heating, cooling, and illumination over their lifespans.

And please don't accuse Mary of hypocrisy when she decries the placement of these behemoths among the modest homes: this is not a valid way to place homes of mixed cost within a given neighborhood.

bryan said...

Where ever development, infill and redevelopment happens the character of the area changes. In the outskirts of the county this had been happening for decades. Small houses are torn down (or left) and larger different looking vinyl villages are built. The historic old country roads with ranch houses and farms are now feeder-roads for subdivision. Did Ballantyne loose its economic diversity in the last 20 years, going from a farm community to an urban suburb? Was everyone in an up-rage when the Historic identity of Derita was changing with the addition of starter communities that architecturally did not mesh with the established communities surrounding it? The redevelopment of Brooklyn, the 1st Ward project, Washington Heights, the personalities of these neighborhoods have changed or been redefined. What is happening in Myers Park, Eastover and Dilworth is not new. Same song different verse. It’s just NIMBY on a higher economic scale.

Anonymous said...

Seems we can distill this down to the individual vs. the collective.

When the collective can take away the rights of the individual who provides the checks and balances for the power of the collective.

Individual freedoms are occasionally messy and we all might not agree with everyones actions all the time but isn't it wonderful when "you" can exercise "your" freedom of individual choice, whatever it might be without seeking a collective permission.

Without the rights, and these include property rights, bestowed to the individual Democracy quickly devolves into the tyranny of the majority (collective).

Andy said...

Mary: Please take the time to sort out in your mind the difference between "controversial", "tastes", and "rights". Your immediate response to someone doing something you don't like (building a big house) is to pull out a gun and stop them. So- called "McMansions" do not, by themselves, violate rights of any human beings. The call to ban them does.

It was good to see that you at least questioned whether there exists such a thing a neighborhood rights. They don't exist. That is collectivism. That argument says "because I moved into this neighborhood", I get to decide what everyone else is going to do with their homes". That is not a right.

There are laws on the books, and have been for centuries, which ban *truly* unsitely or noisy behavior. If I blast Led Zeppelin all night long and my neighbors can hear it, I have gone beyond the bounds of my property and have violated their rights. If I place a huge billboard of naked people in my front yard, that also violates the rights of others.

Someone having a bigger house is not a right violation. It may not be to your taste. It may be "controversial", but in the end it is none of your business.

Anonymous said...

Disgusted in Union Co., you've pretty transparently tried to cast those who would control the choices of others as being subjected to the orthodoxy of those wo they would control. It's fairly obvious that the person who seeks to impose on others their own interpretation of an acceptable level of living are being forced into nothing, but they would like to force those who don't share their view to accept that view.

I'd buy your argument that they are infringing on their neighbors but for one thing: neither you mor Mary (by her own admission) are those neighbors. And it is the people who own the houses in those neighborhoods who are replacing them with larger houses. After all, they must first own the property before they can tear down the house and replace it with one they prefer, and at that point they ARE a part of the neighborhood.

But as Andy so aptly pointed out, there ARE no neioghborhood rights. It isn't an extreme view of property rights to hold that they end at one's own property line. It is indeed an extreme view that one's property rights extend onto the property of others. And that in essence is all you're really saying: that once you buy a piece of property, you want control over the property you didn't buy that may be near you.

Tell you what: I'll let you decide what I do with my property just as soon as your name is on the title. Until then, to borrow your theme, if you want to control the lives of others, you ought to consider buying that 100 acre tract yourself, putting all the little houses you want on it, and selling them with deed restrictions.

Anonymous said...

I see the property rights nazis have arrived. Just for the record..everything you have in the good old USA, property, income, all of it is possible because of the rules and laws of society including...heaven forbid, government. So...let's hope all of you get the medical waste incinerator next door to you that you so richly deserve.
And if there are no neighborhood rights, how do you REBIC-istas explain homeowners association rules that dictate what kind of mailbox you buy?
You can't have it both ways. Property use does effect neighbors and neighborhoods and there's decades of legal precedent to support that and to protect people from "market-based" planning or the illegal and damaging whims of others. And the idea that arcitecture and design is somehow completely subjective is baloney. Yes, Virginia there is bad design and it exists even if people aren't smart enough to notice or care. If you find this elitist, perhaps I should recommend a nice remedial design course for you?

Disgusted in Union Co said...

Great point, anonymous #9!

"So...let's hope all of you get the medical waste incinerator next door to you that you so richly deserve."

I should be forced to accept a hideous McMansion next door to me, blocking sunlight and creating mold in my walls, blocking the very soil and flooding my property - the property with my name on the title...but they shouldn't have to live with that medical waste incinerator next door. No, they'd want regulations to prevent the incinerator.

Interesting position...

Andy said...

One of the many "Anonymouses" (Why don't you leave your name? And why do you have to resort to name calling?) says that the "property rights Nazis" have arrived. This is silly. Nazis were against property rights (and all individual rights). Get caught up on history and philosophy.

Please also focus when reading my previous post. And get a grip on your emotions. You are setting up a straw man. Having property rights does not mean doing whatever you want to do to someone else. I gave two very benign examples of how the use of private property can sometimes violate the rights of others. No one's rights should ever be violated. But that is what Mary and many of the commenters are calling for!

I have not said that owners of so-called "McMansions" have greater rights than ranch owners. That would be a violation of the rights of ranch-style home owners.

A medical waste incinerator next in a neighborhood *is* a violation or potential violation of rights. There is a known danger which could damage or kill people. Again, you have knocked down a straw man very nicely. But you have not made any points concerning property rights -- other than the fact that you are against them.

"McMansions", by themselves, are not a threat to anyone. They are simply bigger houses. They are not "medical waste incinerators".

In addition, you have the role of government and property rights backwards. The proper job of government is to protect the individual and property rights of citizens. All citizens. But rights don't stem from government. Rights are moral principles which derive from the nature of man. The role of government is properly defined by that nature -- to protect against those who would initiate force or fraud against others.

But what Mary and many others here are calling for is the perversion of that -- using government to violate the rights of individuals. I suggest being a little more thoughtful about whom you are labeling a Nazi.

Andy said...

Please note that "Charlotte Capitalist" and "Andy" are the same commenter. I am not afraid to put my name on my comments. Just click and see.

It would be nice if others would have the same courage to stand behind their views -- and not resort to name-calling while hiding behind "anonymous".



Anonymous said...

Oh there's a fair chance I'm better caught up on history and philosophy than most...and I didn't call anyone in particular a name. I'm sorry if you felt singled out. But nazi is as nazi does...and in Charlotte there's a definate group that likes to selectively apply property rights as if they only apply to property when it's being "improved" economically. If you really cared about individual property rights you'd be working to have homeowners associations declared illegal. Their control over personal property is much more intrusive than government.

And I am emotional about this issue because I believe in good old fashioned american values not just "capitalism" and the greed attendant to it. Democracy, rule of law, the common good. It's what makes the (governement maintained) street you drive to work on possible.

Simply, if the "market decides" you do get a waste incinerator next door. It's as simple as that. And as for moral laws...ask someone in Chile if their "nature" protects them. The role of government is to protect life and liberty...not your right to damage a neighbor's property...even if you think you have the right to do so. There's nothing "straw man" about that theory.

Perhaps you should read my post if you think I'm against property right. I believe in them strongly, but they can't be used to damage a neighborhood. McMansions certainly are a threat for reasons areday mentioned in other posts. They also destroy that thing called "quality of life." Now I know how capitalists hate anything they can't price...(although they're happy to profit from it if they can) but destroying someone's "pursuit of happiness" Most people would call damage.

Thank you for your thoughtful response, but I'm afraid we just disagree.

And my name is Richard if that makes a difference.

Anonymous said...

Richard, you've shot wide of the mark in characterizing homeowners' associations as analogous to some amorphous concept of "neighborhood rights".

Homeowners' associations consist largely in a set of clearly codified rules that are voluntarily accepted at the time of purchase. Far from representing a right of some persons to IMPOSE their beliefs regarding appropriate use of property on others, they represent the voluntary surrender of certain prerogative by each and every person subject to them.

When a person from one neighborhood (for example Mary or yourself) wishes to impose restrictions on people in another neighborhood, that constitutes a very unequal application of law (or rules, if you prefer): you are not subject to the rules you wish to impose. A homeowners' association, by contrast, embodies perfectly the concept of equal application of the law. Each and every person who is subject to the rules is also a party to those rules an no person not subject to them is so.

Anonymous said...

I don't think anyone's "hiding" behind Anonymous -- we just don't have blogger accounts.

Maybe we should do a version of zoning. Houses over 5000 sq ft in this zone, etc. I guess that would be de facto segregation of economic classes (generally speaking, but maybe not if the restrictions were broad enough), but there's got to be some way to preserve the regular-old-neighborhood look of some areas. And I don't think the McMansion folks would all mind living together.

Maybe that's a really dumb idea. Ha.

Disgusted in Union Co said...

Thank you, Richard.

Andy just spouts the "I'm richer than you are, so I've earned greater rights" rhetoric.

Personally, I vote for building the medical waste incinerator next door to him. Oh, wait - it's a health hazard? Then he needs a homeless shelter next door. I think it might nicely complement his McMansion.

Anonymous said...

Once again, a typical editorial by Mary newsome wanting to micromanage haw everyone else in the city lives.

Not that I'm a big advocate for 7,000 foot McMansions. I simply think they're nothing more than a status symbol for those who want to brag about how rich they are. The point is, a majority of us don't live in Myers park, Eastover or Dilworth, nor have the desire to do so. Therefore, I don't necessarily care what these folks do within their own neighborhoods. What I do know is that some of those 50's ranch houses and bungalows nestled within Myers park, etc. are rather out of character with the rest of the neighborhood, and obviously not affordable in the first place to the average Joe, so why not let them be torn down? If somebody can afford the plot, let them build their 'dream house'.

Let's face it, if Mary had her way, we'd all still be living in the 60's timewarp where everything stays the same from here on out. Sorry Mary, things change, and growing cities do too. Get over it.

My name is Dann.

Anonymous said...

Actually, Dann, I don't think Mary sided on the micromanaging side. Note: "Should the whole process be stopped? Probably not, unless, as I said above, it’s destroying a historic neighborhood." Oh, and mansion builders should build sidewalks. She didn't say they shouldn't be able to build, although I'm with her about hoping they come to their senses.

You might say it's a matter of taste, but some people's taste is really just WASTE.

hueion said...

The seller of the small house to be demolished has a choice. Enjoy the environment of a comfortable neighborhood, or sell the house for a profit. The choice is made, and we see capitalism is alive and well.

Anonymous said...

Taste or waste depends very much on one's perspective. So does "too large" and "too small". I find it interesting that some seem to miss this bit of truth: there is no empirically derived "right size" house precisely because, as one person has noted, a discussion of the size and nature of one's dwelling is a discussion of wants, not needs. And what one wants is entirely a personal matter.

There is no correct answer to the question of what size os the right size. There are only people's personal feelings about what they find to be enough, too much, or too little. Attempting to foreclose discussion by characterizing those with whom one disagrees as possessed of immorality or not being possessed of "sense" is evidence of that: were there factual evidence the ad hominem would not be necessary.

Anonymous said...

Property Rights Extremists! Property Rights Nazi's!

A wiser man than me once opinied That he who screams loudest knows the least.

I do know the loud peddle to the floor acceleration of name calling vs. point making, harm wishing instead of debating reinforces the neccessity of protecting the rights of individuals from the tyranny of the mob.

Anonymous said...

I know what you mean about not being able to strictly define larger homes as wasteful, but can't we be pretty sure that when there are people who cannot eat in the world, a 7,000 sq ft home counts as wasteful? It may be hard to draw the line, but maybe we should start speculating about what counts as "enough" living space. We speculate as to what counts as "enough" or "too little" money for a family, have calculated what would be a living wage, etc. Maybe it'd be interesting to decide how much living space works for a family of a certain number, and then see how many people choose to live larger than they "need" by that calculation. (Obviously not for the purpose of legally restricting people to so-called "appropriate" sizes).

It might be telling.

Anonymous said...

“quality of life” Defined: The requirement that you do what makes me happy.

"pursuit of happiness" Defined: A phrase not found in the Constitution nor the Bill of Rights.

Anonymous said...

Anon 11:01

Actually I'm pretty sure that you could use that same scenario (juxtaposing a world in which some people have an insufficient diet against housing or for that matter other material possessions to arrive at the conclusion that every single house in Charlotte is wasteful.

The argument boils down to this: so long as there are unmet needs in the world, anyone who consumes more than their basic necessities is wasteful. By that standard, of course, it is wasteful to buy new socks when you get a hole in them or to dispose of any clothes with rips or holes: they can be repaired and no one NEEDS slacks or shirts or socks without patches. And we need not even consider the waste associated with vacation rental houses at the beach or in the mountains: we don't really need to take week or two to leave our own houses vacant while we rent another for leisure. We NEED none of those things. We merely want them.

Now the fact is that in a purely rational sense it's true: the 7,000 sq ft house is wasteful, just as the new shirt or pair of shoes or socks or vacation is. But so is the 1200 sq ft house and for that matter most of what is inside of it, save for one serviceable set of clothes per occupant, a small collection of cooking utensils, one sink, the toilet and a waste receptacle and an inconsequential number of other things.

And all things considered, there are a lot more wasteful 1000 or 1500 or 2000 sq ft houses than there are 7,000 sq ft houses, so if the real thrust of the argument is to really define waste and then dedicate the wasted resources to alleviating unmet needs (and that really is an entirely different discussion) there is far more headway to be made by focusing on the average homeowner than on the few that own quite large houses.

I doubt that those who seek a moral aspect for their version of the appropriate housing size and in the process denigrate some housing choices as wasteful would care to have my grandmother assess their own purity in that regard. She raised a family of 7 children in a 900 sq foot house an they all did just fine. From her perspective I imagine that a childless couple living in 1200 sq ft have plenty of wasted space.

But of course it's a false choice. Just as when a parent used to tell their children to clean their plactes because "there are starving children in China", the two things were unrelated, so are the unmet dietary needs of some and the housing choices of others. The failure of a kids in Charlotte to clean his plate would not put one morsel of food in the stomach of the starving child halfway around the world, and neither would most people in this community restricting their housing to tiny, basic houses.

Anonymous said...

"The failure of a kids in Charlotte to clean his plate would not put one morsel of food in the stomach of the starving child halfway around the world, and neither would most people in this community restricting their housing to tiny, basic houses."

You're right; there needs to be a paradigm shift. But I don't think that kind of shift happens when the mentality is just "all right, as big as you can afford is great! Whatever you want!"

I actually do feel bad about owning a car knowing there are people in the world not eating. BUT, then I'm living in a $300 a month MAYBE 200-250 sq ft apartment with no kitchen and getting scholarships for most of my schooling, and increasing my consciousness of how to help people once I get out. So I'm not feeling too bad, but there's STILL areas where I'm wasteful.

I think we should just all be more vigilant about it.

Regarding cleaning your plate not helping that kid in China, by the way, that's true, but I've heard of a book that discusses hunger as being due not to production, but only to distribution (It was called "The Economics of" something or other and was written by an economist at Harvard)! So like I said, if we COULD somehow work towards a paradigm shift en masse, a depression-like consciousness of waste, maybe it WOULD do some good.

Jay said...

These two quotes from Mary's comments are interesting:

"but it’s losing any vestiges of economic diversity"

"However it’s not good when neighborhoods lose economic diversity – which seems to be happening."

I don't know of many neighborhoods that are "economically diverse". By that term, are you saying that middle class (or lower class) people should have some right to own a house next door to a multi-millionaire? Should this concept be somehow enshrined in the zoning laws?

The land value of those old houses vastly exceeds the value of the building. The people at the lower end of those "economically diverse" neighborhoods are getting windfall crazy profits when selling out to the future McMansion homeowners.

By restricting the ability to build the homes which are desired in such good locations (Myers Park) you are actually taking away value in the property. I am not so sure that the people at the lower end would appreciate your attempt to destroy the value of their location.

It would seem to me that everything is working out just fine.

Anonymous said...

Part of the problem with home sizes (and SUVs for that matter) is market failure. The incentives for owning a huge house reward the behavior. You get a huge tax break for the mortgage. The costs of gas and electricity (while high this year, but typically less than in other country's) are not a huge disincentive to owning mega-houses. As is, the system rewards inefficient use of natural resources (land and energy). Zoning out McMansions is a temporary salve, but it fails to stop the larger systemic problem.

Anonymous said...

It's interesting to me that one observation about the older neighborhoods being invaded by McMansions has not been discussed much: that by and large, the people living in the neighborhoods themselves don't want them. Mind you, these neighbors tend themselves to be people of means, because, as one of the "anonymouses" pointed out, the typical middle-class would-be landowner can't afford even a small ranch in Myers Park.

I live in what is probably the last middle-class neighborhood in the Ballantyne area. It is my hope that it isn't discovered by the would-be McMansionites who don't want to cross the line to Union County...or by a developer who invokes recent court decisions to have us condemned out of our homes.

If you want a 7,000-square-foot house, go forth and build. I really don't care, and I promise you I'm not husband's home every night and I'm not raising my kids as a virtual single parent, nor am I warehousing them in before- and after-school care while I also go out and work full-time to pursue megabucks to pay for it all. All I ask from you in return is this: respect my right to be happy in my 1,900-sq.-foot house, which happens to be in a very nice suburban area, and don't build a McMansion next door to it.

My name, for the record, is Linnea. I'm not going to create an account just to post.

Anonymous said...

Easy solution, Ms. Newsom. You just buy up all the houses in Meyers Park and preserve them. Problem solved!

In the mean time, home owners can do pretty much anything they like without the government fashion police deciding what they like and what they don't like.

Since when do multi-million dollar homes reduce the quality of a neighborhood?? Thats insane.

And, oh yeah, there is LOTS of economic diversity in Meyers Park.

You have 1)Rich white people, 2) Really rich white people, 3) really white rich people and 4) Really rich and really white people.

The only reason the whiners in the ranches don't want a 7,000 mansion next to them is because they have a case of pee-pee envy.

Stop with the class warfare and leave private citizens alone!

Anonymous said...

"The only reason the whiners in the ranches don't want a 7,000 mansion next to them is because they have a case of pee-pee envy."

Or because they think they're ugly, ridiculous, a mark of a very American brand of wastefulness, and make a neighborhood into a showcase instead of a place families live. Or worse yet, a box of manufactured cookie-cutter houses.


Anonymous said...

Well, sure. Perhpas they do think that they're "ugly, ridiculous, a mark of a very American brand of wastefulness, and make a neighborhood into a showcase instead of a place families live." Those are all opinions about the size, design, and efficieny of houses and about how a family should live. And they're entitled to their opinion. Obviously the people who buy those houses don't share that opiion.

The question is whether the first group is entitled to force the second to abandon THEIR opinion in determining the size and design of the house they wish to live in and live in the house that someone thinks is appropriate.

Anonymous said...

Right, I wasn't addressing that question, but merely taking issue with the idea that I somehow envy someone because I don't like their house?

But, to address that question, can opinions ever be wrong? I think so. Do we have a method in this country of deciding whether or not important opinions are wrong? Yep. Is this important enough to be decided by legislation/courts/etc.? I really don't know.

Anonymous said...

Sure opinions can be wrong when they are at odds with objective,empirically derived facts. If it is my opinion htat the moon ifs made of green cheese, my opinion is wrong.

But that really CAN'T be applied to opinions about "ugly" or "ridiculous" or anything else that is really just an expression of personal preference, including whether one would prefer that their family live an area of 800 sq ft apartments or of 7,000 sq ft mansions.

There may be a consensus of opinion that something is ugly or ridiculous (and I don't know tht there is with regard to the houses in question), but that does not invalidate the opinion of a single person who doesn't find it so, any more than the near universal opinion that limburger cheese is disgusting invalidates the opinion of someone who finds it simply delightful. They're not wrong, they simply have different tastes.

Anonymous said...

sfyqykI wonder, would the people who say it is immoral or ridiculous to live in a house one cannot afford say the same thing about poor people driving a BMW or a car with $2000 worth of rims on it? I'm guessing not. You won't see a report about that kind of thing. It would be too politically incorrect.

Anonymous said...

"poor people driving a BMW or a car with $2000 worth of rims on it? I'm guessing not. You won't see a report about that kind of thing. It would be too politically incorrect."

Why not? Waste is waste. I think most people do think expensive rims are wasteful and wouldn't hesitate to say it. I don't really think that's politically incorrect either.

Anonymous said...

>>>Or because they think they're ugly, ridiculous, a mark of a very American brand of wastefulness

Maybe I think you and your wife are ugly.

Can I get the city to pass an ordinance against that?

'Ammerican' brand of wastefulness?

Go back to France and live in some slum government-subsidized housing.

How in BLAZES is a brand new $4million house anything but a boon to the neighborhood.

Oh, sorry. Its called 'reference anxiety'.

Yesterday you felt good about yourself becuase you had a 2,000 sq ft house in Meyers Park.

Today you feel teenie-weenied because now somebody has one bigger.

Admit it, your anxiety is rooted in greed and slef-importance. The only reason anyone is ticked about tear-downs is becuase the new house is going to be nicer than theirs.

You frauds.

Anonymous said...

"Can I get the city to pass an ordinance against that?"

No, and I didn't say you could or should. I was merely explaining why some of us don't like these houses -- someone had implied it was because of jealousy. And then you go on to do the same thing! This frustrates me, and I'll try to explain why without insulting you and your wife!

"Admit it, your anxiety is rooted in greed and slef-importance. The only reason anyone is ticked about tear-downs is becuase the new house is going to be nicer than theirs."

This may be true depending on your worldview. However, I'm a Christian. This entails many things for me: I want to be a good steward of my money and the earth I've been given. When I have money, I want to provide for those who have little. I do not want to be rich, because often money makes you lose sight of the need for redemption.

I live in a one-room studio apartment with one bathroom. It's above a garage. I have no kitchen. I love it here, feel like I'm living economically, and wish I could stay. Even when I'm not a student and have "plenty" of money, I will not spend that money on more room than I need.

Basically, if you like these houses, fine. I'm not necessarily calling you selfish, although I do feel that, strictly speaking, it's wasteful to own a 7000 sq ft house for a family of four. I hope if you do, you use your obvious surplus of money for others in need. BUT, don't tell me I'm "jealous" because I don't share in what I see as your inexplicable desire for grandiosity. That insults my ability to think and come to a logical and thoughtful conclusion based on my own beliefs and worldview.

Anonymous said...

I should also add that I'm aware that, in some ways, I'm wasteful as well. Sometimes I drive when I could walk. Sometimes I toss a plastic bottle in the trash because the recycling bin is too far away. I use DSL instead of dial-up for my internet connection. I have a turtle I pay to house and feed. We will all be wasteful in some respects, but it's important to be vigilant about it, in my opinion, to be good stewards.

Anonymous said...

You SHOULD be a good steward of your money. There's a really important word pair in there: "your money". Your obligation, your authority and your right to control that hinges on that. And it is neither your responsibility nor your right to exercise control over someone else's money or property.

Just as it is neither generosity nor charity nor compassion to force someone else to use their moeny to help the poor, the stewardship of what is yours does not extend to what is not.

Anonymous said...

"And it is neither your responsibility nor your right to exercise control over someone else's money or property."

Once again, I am not arguing this point. All I am doing is explaining how not liking these houses is not "jealousy." I'm not saying anything about whether or not there should be regulations, besides the fact that I think people should regulate themselves a little better!

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