So, the average new house has doubled in size since 1970, despite the fact that average number of people living in each house has decreased. At the same time, the average density of towns and cities was 10 people/acre in 1920, and by 1990, only 4 people/acre despite the U.S. population doubling in those 70 years. What does all this mean? Some serious sprawl, y’all. (Thanks, Bill McKibben, for reminding me of all of this on the train this morning).
One major point that preservationists like to stress when up against new, green buildings is that historic towns were already built for density. I’ve mentioned in previous posts the importance of convenience and walkability, as well as existing infrastructure like streets, sidewalks, plumbing, schools, churches, etc. But there is another issue here: American’s obsession with privacy and individualism.
Beyond having our own, sometimes very large, piece of land (that is often just planted with Kentucky Blue Grass, covered in pesticides and herbicides, needing to be regularly mowed, and completely devoid of biodiversity), we have compartmentalized our over-sized homes. Every reality show that I watch shows families who don’t eat together, talk together…basically do anything together. And today’s architecture completely supports and encourages this because it means more profits for building larger homes. It also means that by promoting privacy, more green spaces are constantly exploited in order to build a larger quantity of over-sized homes. New “family” dream homes seem to involve as much separation as humanly possible within the envelope of the building. Separate computer rooms, bathrooms, bedrooms for all! People stand to make more money by assuming–and convincing you, the homeowner–that nobody in your family likes each other. This is a fact.
Call me a sentimental lefty, but aren’t people and relationships important? Wouldn’t increased density and smaller homes force us to once again work together and play together and ultimately greatly enhance our quality of life? It is easy for me to link historic and preservation with green building practices in terms of health and materials and energy, but what about the human aspect? What about all that is lost when we continue to separate ourselves from the rest of the world through our architecture? Are relationships found in any of the rating systems yet? Wouldn’t improving those likely help solve the rest of this mess?