Smaller Vs. Bigger…Tale of the Tape!

9 03 2011

Today I realized that I have been on a journey, of sorts, these last couple of weeks.  What I believed was a singular blog expressing my brief thoughts on the “super-sizing” of the American house became a two-parter with my discussion of the over-building that has occurred.  I am now driven into a triptych with this conclusion discussing dollars and cents (or is it sense?).

As I wrapped up my last blog and was sharing my findings with Judy, I was not surprised by her question when she asked, “But what is this costing our country, based on your argument of ‘over-building’”?  So, it was off to the internet, yet again, for a little digging; and, with little effort, I came across 40+ years of Average Sales Prices of New Homes. With that information, coupled with previous data on average square footages for the same period (and my trusty TI calculator), I was able to quickly ascertain that, for the period from 1980 – 2010, the average construction cost in the US was $82.14 per square foot (note that it started at $43.90 in 1980, peaked at $124.40 in 2007, and ended at $111.12 in 2010).  Now, based on my supposition that we have, since 1980, overbuilt by 760 million square feet per year, and at the above cost of $82.14, my trusty TI and I calculated an excess cost of $62,426,400,000.00 (that billions, friends) per year; but wait, after punching in our 30 year period, I was blown away with the figure $1,872,792,000,000.00 (can you say almost $2 trillion?).  Again, this is a raw number that does not take into consideration additional costs of support systems, negative effects of lost farm and scenic lands, depletion of natural resources, etc.; and to be fair, it doesn’t take into consideration many other factors that other factions might argue (for and against this theory).  But suffice it to say, we are talking astronomical figures!

Having said all of this, I’m blown away by the enormity of this excess.   As a matter of fact, I needed a frame of reference and, with the help of the internet, I found a one; unfortunately, one of the few measures that deal with numbers this large is the US National Debt which, currently stands at (are you ready for this?) just over $14 trillion.  OK, my estimate is less than the National Debt but, isn’t this just another sign of the excess that we’ve allowed our culture to gravitate to?  While mulling these facts over, I, serendipitously, came across a blog entry posted to Sarah Susanka’s (The Not So Big House series) Facebook page that, poignantly, discusses this issue of our culture of excess.  So, forgive me for heading on this little tangent; but, I’ve included a portion of this blog, posted to the site, Ten Dollar Thoughts and written by Gale, to bolster my point (the entire blog can be reached through a link following the exert):

There’s something off about the American dream.

[…] I’ve been thinking about this intermittently for the last month and I’ve finally put my finger on it.  The American dream is too simple.  It is not nuanced or multi-faceted.  It is plain, and brute, and a little crass.  Quite plainly, the American dream is financial […]

[…]   A few years back architect/author Sarah Susanka wrote a book about home scale and design called The Not So Big House.  In it she described how the American dream has eradicated everything we love about our homes.  New houses traded thoughtful design, charm, intimacy, and attention to proportion and scale for carelessly conceived vaulted ceilings, floor-to-ceiling windows, and giant open floor plans that leave us feeling unmoored in our own homes […] Susanka points out how much of our lives are crammed with obligations and activities that we have piled onto our existence without consideration for what value they bring (or what value they destroy) […]

[…] I wonder how our cultural evolution might have been different if the American dream weren’t about success; or perhaps rather if success were measured by some yardstick other than the dollar sign.  Might we live in homes that were designed with more regard for our needs and less regard for our reputations? […] If the American dream didn’t drive us to prove our success to the rest of the world would we find ourselves happier, and with less?

Ten Dollar Thoughts: Dreaming the Wrong Dream

So, where do we go from here?  Can we, as a nation, turn the tide of excess?  Will we rediscover the true meaning of the American Dream? The author above, Gale, does end on a positive note of hope that America can and will “get it”.

And now, back at the ranch, I must return to the main focus of this series; that of creating homes for families, not cavernous status houses.  There are movements, all over the country, just like that of The Not So Big House series that are advocating a return to our core values of home and hearth and taking a more sensible approach to a sustainable future.  And, this is not a plea to reduce square footages as much as it is a plea to think carefully about real living needs and design appropriate homes that fit our lifestyle not our egos. I’ve mentioned a number of times, that “right-sizing” is my new mantra and that I will work closely with clients to create their true vision of the family home; work with me on this issue, work with architects on this issue, and work with your fellow Americans!  It’s good for us, it’s good for humankind, and it’s good for Mother Earth!




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