Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Decline of the yard and rise of the rowhouse …

House-street     For most of a century, the detached home has been the American ideal, and land use laws were crafted to match, foster, and nurture this ideal.  But cracks are starting to form.  Today, I don't focus on the usual suspects – high gas prices, traffic, suburban alienation, or the attractive buzz of the city.  Rather, I’ll focus on the observation that appeal of the “lawn” – a place to plant flowers, toss a football, or shoot the breeze with a beer and a lawn chair – may be dying out.  
      First, here’s a story about the growing popularity of rowhouses in the Chicago suburbs.  Unlike detached houses, these smaller, yard-less houses have kept most of their value over the past couple of years, unlike big detached houses.  There are telling quotes from buyers who don’t mind the lack of a yard and appreciate the lower price.
    (Meanwhile, isn’t it interesting that developers are marketing them as “rowhouses?” A generation ago, a “rowhouse” conjured up unfavorable images of working class folks on the stoops in t-shirts in a declining urban neighborhood, while “townhouse” seemed much more posh.  Today, with “townhouses” having sprouted up adjacent to strip malls in many suburbs, the word “rowhouse” now connotes a certain neo-urban chic.  Expect developers to market suburban “tenements” by 2011 …)
    Then, there’s this story the extraordinary amount of time that the typical American teen spends texting.  From my generation, I ask:  When do they get time to wander the malls if they’re always texting?  I suppose they do it at the same time.  For their generation, for whom most waking hours are spent looking at a screen of some kind (phone, computer, TV), what good is a yard?  Will governments begin to craft land use laws with a presumption that rowhouses are as acceptable for new zoning as detached houses?
   And finally, here’s a story about a nearly vacant development of expensive detached homes in Homestead, an exurb at the very southern edge (hence the name) of the Miami metro area.  Imagine, in a growing Sunbelt mega-metro, pinned in on all sides by sea and protected wetlands, a housing development going unsold!  Perhaps the houses will be snatched up once the economy improves; but it also makes one think that maybe these houses should be torn down and replaced with exurban rowhouses …     


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