Friday, November 11, 2005

Big Things

Most of these places, that is to say, "urban-density" in-building, condo/loft-style homes, have yet to be actually put up. There are many currently under construction, a few that are new and ready for occupation, and some that have been around for quite awhile.

I do not think it is too soon to abandon the suburbs to return to town or city living. When the era of cheap carbon fuel begins to wind down, like right now, shorter commutes and smaller living spaces will become premium and unless somebody decides to build a giant pharmaceutical factory requiring five thousand highly-paid employees out in Queen Creek, nobody will be able to sustain a home there. Same goes for Estrella, Fountain Hills, and those knock-up fake towns north of Peoria, for example.

No, we are not going to go Japanese.

By Western standards, the typical Japanese home is very small. In the major cities, most families live in tiny apartments. One third of the housing in Tokyo averages only 121 square feet while the average Japanese home is 650 square feet.

That's small. Consider this:

In recent years, the trend on Long Island certainly has been toward larger, aggressively un-claustrophobic houses. In Nassau County, planners say, new and renovated housing is typically in the 2,800- to 3,500- square-foot range -- with luxury homes of 4,000 square feet and more becoming ever more common. In the Northeast, the median new house size in 1973 was 1,450 square feet, according to annual U.S. Census housing surveys. Last year, that figure was 2,361 square feet.

That's big. Probably too big for most double-income families (and what family isn't these days?) to clean and maintain, so such tasks become "out-sourced" to the not-so-merry-maids, handymen, and the like.

A few posts back I commented on a LTTE found in a Northeastern newspaper, written by a woman bemoaning her high heating bills. Those, of course, are only going to get much much worse. Another writer submitted his own comments in a LTTE which appeared a day or two later:

A 2,500-square-foot house in Rensselaer is not average. That Bonny Parsons decided to buy a 2,500-square-foot house that is heated by oil shows her poor judgment. Everyone knows oil is the most expensive form of energy around. Now she wants to heat up her bedrooms with electric heaters, thinking her bill will not top $1,000 a month. Yes, she's average -- in her own mind.

Well, that's a bit harsh. I am more sympathetic, and concerned. It's the math. Math, and the economy.

Heating (or in the case of the Valley of the Sun, cooling) a 2,500-square-foot home is simply a lot more expensive than heating a 200-square-foot Tokyo flat. That's one part of the formula.

Then multiply the cost of heating a large home by the total number of such big domiciles, and subtract that total cost from other areas of consumer spending. Voila: recession. A big long no-end-in-sight hit on consumer spending.

It's like gasoline. Every three bucks you put in your gas tank is one less vanilla latte. So to speak. It's just more money sucked out of the economy and sacrificed on the glowing funeral pyres of Exxon/Mobil.

So I am stuck asking myself if it's just too late.

For the suburbs, probably yes, it is too late. Like, way.

Big mortgages, big commutes, big homes, big yards, big fuel bills, big plasma televisions, big car payments, big credit card bills...

No money for Barbie and Ken at Christmastime, no money going anywhere except to Uncle Sam and Uncle Halliburton and cousin Big Oil, who, by the way is a Saudi prince. Did you know you owed him money? Your Chinese cousin gets a piece of your mortgage, too, you know.

Yes. You have a Chinese cousin. Lots of them, actually, and if they need oil, they can walk to the Middle East to get it.

But can you walk to work, or to get a gallon of milk?

Can you even sell a gallon of milk to a family that has no money left over after paying their home heating bills this winter?

We should have paid more attention to President Carter's energy plan back when we actually had the chance. And maybe thought about living in a smaller place a little closer to work.


dorsano said...

People danced on the deck of the Titanic for over 1/2 hour after it struck the ice berg.

Urban Über Man said...

I'd like to think that all the sales of higher denisty "urban" product in Phoenix et al is because a portion of the population is learning to appreciate the value of shorter commutes, smaller square footage, and fewer personal possessions. However, I'm afraid the "boom" is more a result of exuberant investors banking on a trend and trying to catch an appreciation wave. We will see.