Weekend Ramblings: Housing

>> Sunday, August 2, 2009

Sometimes on the weekends, I ramble about thoughts I've been having that week. Feel free to comment, add to my thoughts, or disagree with anything I say. But please remember that I don't like being called an idiot, even if I'm being one. So keep your comments respectful.

This week I've been thinking about where and how people choose to live. I don't mean like what part of the country. More like, urban vs. suburban vs. country. Big house vs. medium house vs. small house. Apartment/condo vs. townhouse vs. single-family home. Etc.

First some background on me:

I have lived everywhere. I have lived in small towns, medium cities, and large cities. I spent my childhood in the suburbs, my teenage years in the country, and currently live a mile from Raleigh's downtown. I've lived in small houses, large houses, dorm rooms, apartments, and townhouses.

My husband and I both spent most of our lives in small towns, and both of our parents currently live out in the country. When we lived in the DC suburbs, we constantly talked about buying some land in the country, building a passive solar home, and starting a small homestead.

Now we are in the city, and we love it. We love being able to walk everywhere and being so close to so many forms of entertainment. But when we visit our parents, our minds inevitably wander back to that dream of having some land in the country, and we end up in that never ending debate - buy a house in the city or the country?

It will be several more years before we'll be able to buy a house again, so I'm sure the debate will continue for awhile. But what we know for sure is that we never want to live in the suburbs again. We are just not suburb people. We love the buzz of the city and the tranquility of the country. We do not enjoy the monoculture of the suburbs. We do not enjoy long drives in traffic jams. We are not fans of McMansions, especially in neighborhoods where all the houses look the same. And we do not understand the appeal of carefully manicured lawns.

But I know that there are many, many, many people who choose to live in the suburbs. So I've been thinking about why. Why do people choose to live where they live?

Here are a couple of things that brought these thoughts to mind:

  • No Impact Man wrote a great post about why he supports a less impact life, and in the original post, he wrote (among other things) that in the future he hopes to be able to say, "I am glad we've stopped building suburbs, which make people unhappy." Several people commented that they live in the suburbs and are very happy, so he scratched out that line.
  • Grist points to a press release about a so-called environmentalist who has built a "6,700 square foot spectacular 'green' home."
  • We got caught in a massive traffic jam out in the country last week, and we were stopped for an hour in front of a bunch of homes set way back from the road. And between each house and the street was about 2 acres of lawn. No trees, no landscaping, no gardens of any kind. Just lawn.
So here are the thoughts I've been having. Feel free to comment.
  • What is the appeal of the suburbs? Why do so many people choose to live there?
  • Can a 6700 square foot house really be called green? Why do people want such big houses?
  • What is the appeal of huge lawns? Why do people like them?
  • As we move toward more sustainable lifestyles, will our houses have to get smaller? Will our lawns have to get smaller? Or will innovation enable us to maintain our current lifestyles?
  • How can we preserve what people like about the suburbs while still moving toward more sustainable lifestyles?
Photo by voxefx

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Green Bean August 3, 2009 at 12:59 PM  

I've lived in the suburbs most of my life - though where we currently live is so dense that I consider it more urban. I did have a a 5 or so year stint in a city.

Personally, I really dislike living in cities. Too loud. Too many people. Too little greenery and too few wild open spaces. Too much traffic. Too dirty. I don't know. I feel very stiffled there. I know it is supposed to be greener because there is more mass transit and less impact as everyone is squished in there together.

I'd love to live in the country but there's the issue of jobs and schools and such and I think we'd end up doing a lot more driving. One of my kids has some challenges that require us to live close to big city resources. So suburbs it is.

Of course, the resources we use are all in our town or next town over. My husband's job is a city or two over. As I said, I live in a very very dense suburb so that is a bit different that some of the stereotypical suburbs. There are few McMansions here as everything was built in the 1940s and the lots are pretty tiny.

Still, I think the idea of suburbs is that you can have a bit more space to breathe than the city but still have access to its resources: jobs, cutting edge health care facilities, schools, children's programs, etc. Not ideal but I have a feeling that there are a lot of people like me who find themselves in the suburbs for those very reasons.

Anonymous,  August 4, 2009 at 12:30 PM  

I myself have moved out to the country. On the other hand I like the idea of living in the city, although I have never done so. The city life appeals to me when I go traveling or to the theater or something like that. It would be wonderful to have a city place you can just walk everywhere you want to go. I do agree with your comments on Suburbs; they just don't appeal to me.

Why does it have to be one or the other? With some savings and hard work you can have both. Live in the country and have a "vacation" home/condo in a city. Rent it out to other vacationing couples. Personally, that would be the best of both worlds.

Erin aka Conscious Shopper August 5, 2009 at 1:50 PM  

@Green Bean - I think if a suburb is designed well, it can be just as eco-friendly as a city. If they were designed so people didn't have to drive too far to get what they need or could even walk, and as long as the houses and yards are kept reasonable (though I'm sure there's some difference of opinion on what's a reasonable size). And in the suburbs, you also have the advantage of having a yard to plant a garden in. The more I think about it, the more I think there are advantages to cities, suburbs, and the country.

@Anonymous - Yes, that would be ideal! We've also talked about doing a "reverse commute" - buying some land out in the country to farm, but living in a house in the city. Unlike others who drive to the city for work, I'd drive out to the country to our farm. Probably not ideal from a green perspective though with all the driving.

Cherie August 5, 2009 at 4:35 PM  

I'm torn between city and country living. I grew up in Los Angeles and spent most of my adult life in Tampa, but recently moved to the country to the farm where my husband grew up. I love the convenience of the city, the limited driving, the ability to walk to so many places, and the energy of the city. The country has solitude, space, and nature. I've never really lived in the 'burbs but don't think I would like it. To me it would have the negatives of both city and country living (close neighbors, necessity to drive to everything) and none of the positives. Also, from what I've seen, suburbanites seem to be consumed with "keeping up with the Jones" more than either city or country people. Just my two cents worth!

Erin aka Conscious Shopper August 5, 2009 at 9:56 PM  

@Cherie - Yes, that's exactly what I love about the city and the country but dislike about the suburbs. Thanks for adding your two cents!

toronto realtor August 20, 2009 at 3:36 PM  

Choosing between suburbs and towns or houses and condos is not easy, right? Price might play an important role in both of these cases. The houses in suburbs are cheaper, it's calmer there and the distance from the city is not big. That is why people probably choose to live there.


Erin aka Conscious Shopper August 21, 2009 at 11:36 AM  

@Eli - Yes, I'm sure price plays a huge factor. And also space. We're lucky that we live in a small enough city that we can live in a house with a small yard and still walk to the downtown area. If we were in a big city like New York or Chicago, I'm sure we would have considered the suburbs more. Price was definitely the reason we lived in the suburbs when we were in Maryland.

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