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August 10, 2008

Bigger house isn't better

We live in a time of excess: high levels of energy consumption, record debt per household, a real estate crisis and rapid growth in urban centers. How much larger do our houses need to be? To suggest that tearing down an affordable, existing, functional house to build a nearly four-times-larger McMansion is alarming and irresponsible, especially in Prairie Village (8/3, House + Home, "Portrait of a teardown").

Across our nation, the "teardown" epidemic is creating irreversible damage. The desire to move into older neighborhoods is commendable, but not at the cost of losing basic character. Teardowns force neighborhoods into a spiral of real estate speculation and escalating costs, leaving residents no control. With increasing energy costs and climate change, we must re-examine our need for larger homes. Small is more relevant than ever.

Teardowns wedge large houses in place of affordable houses in neighborhoods where economic and social diversity is needed to keep communities vital.

Is the teardown creating an uncontrollable escalation of demolition, unbridled waste and jeopardy to urban fabric? We must remember to value diversity, tree canopy, sunlight, open space and lower carbon footprint.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation has more information at www.preservationnation.org/issues/teardowns.

Anne Lindberg
Kansas City



Good post, I was impressed reading it. But I wonder about your basis for "the 'I've got mine' Bush crowd". Actually, President Bush has spent more on social problems than BC did. His "butter and guns" policies have resulted in problems, but he has expanded, not cut, social programs.



Nice post which I greatly enjoyed, with not one mention of "neocons".


I have no trouble with the old being torn down for the new. This has been an underlying theme in our nation.

At the same time I look at my mother's neighborhood (the one I mostly grew up in). WWII 3 bedroom ranch homes. So many currently would consider them "starter" homes and not good enough by "today's standards". Then I look again.

I can stand in my mother's yard and point out the "millionaires next door". They raised families while they built businesses in the basements and garages of these "too small" houses.

One is on the Board of the biggest bank in town. Another owns the "jobber" who handles most of the home heating oil in town. One starved for nigh onto 20 years because he believed that one day, and his wife supported his efforts, that two-way radio would one day be a big deal (when you grab your cell phone thank my mom and dad).

And there are LOT'S of other similar stories. And they still live in what are now considered to be crapppy little houses.

I worried for a long time, after my father's death, about my mother's neighborhood. Then I noticed what was happening. Yes, most of the houses around her went rental and bad news for a while. But then something else happened.

Young, not very well off, families started moving in. The house immediatly behind her's was purchased a short time ago, by a Hispanic couple with two boys, who operate a small construction company out of the basement. The next house down was purchased by an Anglo family, with three girls, who run a lawn care business out of their basement. And several families around the block started building other businesses, based on their belief in the future, out of their home also.

The whole neighborhood is being taken over by young families who's eyes are looking to the future. And the Hispanic couple next door? They mow my mother's lawn (she is now 78) because "it is easier to do both" while the anglo couple tend the rest of her house needs because they have a crew who they were going "to have to pay for friday anyway".

Yep, it's upside down. The family with the lawncare business tends much of her housing needs while the family with the construction business mows her lawn. These people are what America was built on.

This new generation is doing what our parents did. No "McMansions". A house with enough room for a few kids and their dreams will do nicely. That is all they want/need.

Us "boomers" should be ashamed that the "I've got mine" Bush crowd, who we keep voting for, is causing them a hard time in building the new America.

To paraphrase my all time favorite movie (Shane):

"All the current generation of robber barons wants is to grow money. What you want to grow (anglos) is your daughters. And what you want to grow (hispanics) is your sons. Straight and proud."

I get misty eyed even thinking about this. I hope I am not the only one.

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