The single biggest challenge to true growth management, and therefore the strongest driving force behind suburban sprawl, is in fact the average American household’s pursuit of the “American dream” – which ultimately becomes a very personalized definition of “affordable housing.”
While the “American dream” is often loosely defined as one’s own tidy single-family home on a sizable piece of property behind the proverbial white-picket fence, in fact this dream is a moving target, influenced not only by the marketing machines of corporate homebuilders, federal tax policy, and even cable television, but also by still lingering suburbanite fears of “urban living.”
While growing up in my family of five in eastern Bellevue in the 1960’s I lived in what was then deemed a model of middle-class housing. Yet that same 1600-square-foot, three-bedroom, 2-bathroom house on a large lot is today considered substandard by most even two- or three-person families seeking new housing.
With new homebuilders and the massive media storm that has grown around them bombarding American society with imagery and messaging meant to convince us all that we should live in 3,000-plus-square-foot “faux chateaux” in the distant-most exurbs, the tidy, comfortable, and, yes, more modest suburban homes of yesteryear pale in comparison.
As a result, when today’s small family laments that they cannot “afford” a house unless they move out to the exurban fringe on yesterday’s farms and forestland it’s often because they cannot afford the current media-driven image of what they should afford. In fact, 15- to 30-year-old suburban homes in first- and even second-ring suburbs are far more affordable than houses in the brand-new subdivisions but are often overlooked. (more…)