small house soliloquy

Living in a small house, I know the beauties of a small house. Cleaning takes a shorter time. Most things are within arms’ reach. We only need one phone instead of four or five scattered throughout the house. I see neighbor kids who live in small houses too playing outside with each other, no play date scheduling required. I often wondered why there aren’t more small houses being built today with really good indoor-outdoor floor plans based on contemporary life instead of life in 1900. That is the only real limitation of the small house; the old floor plans don’t usually make the best use of the space.

I later discovered that the reason few small houses are being constructed today is because houses made today are either built by people for themselves (and then they are going to build one that has everything they can think of that they might want over their whole lives because they aren’t going to do it again) or else built by a huge development company that wants to make as much money as possible off the sales and the fact is that four 2 million dollar houses on 20 acres (5 acres each fenced in from each other) equals 8 million dollars while ten small $250,000 houses on ten acres with the other 10 used for community agriculture for the ten families only equals 2.5 million dollars and more than twice the hassle of sales plus the inevitable arguement over “density” that can be neatly sidestepped when there are “only” four houses or “homes” as they like to call them.

The larger picture is always lost, the community loses and the developer wins an extra 5.5 million dollars for a lot less work than they would have had to do if there had been some kind of requirement that housing in our town be built according to what we actually need. Of course there is a need for the larger houses too. But, we really already have plenty of those. Just look around if there is any doubt. What about houses for people who are single? Or couples? Or a single person with one or more kids? Or couples with one child? Or retired couples? Or gay couples? Or people who just want a smaller house or neighbors they can see once in a while? This kind of housing is severely lacking in every community. And it perpetuates feelings of inadequacy in people. We are still living with this crazy mindset that everyone should plan to have a full nuclear family and if they aren’t in one now, then they should expect to eventually work up to that exalted goal by buying a four bedroom house now just in case and to give the appearance now that maybe they are living like that. A mother living in a studio apartment with her child sometimes feels like maybe there is something wrong. If housing were specifically designed for single mothers maybe they wouldn’t feel like there was something wrong because if there is housing designed just for that situation then maybe it is a “normal” situation. When you have to hunt high and low for it, maybe it feels like you are not on the right track.

I think it’s not a matter of what people want or what people need or even what people find acceptable, it is merely a matter of what a the house-building companies are doing in order to generate maximum profits. And you can’t blame them. It’s what the economy and country is set up to do and it couldn’t be any other way. You just start to wonder how effective that system is when it doesn’t actually serve the people living within that structure and we have to create laws and codes to restrict what is coming naturally from the structure that is in place.

I know some people who live in big houses with one or two children and they feel isolated and lonely and have to schedule everything for their kids and themselves since there is no opportunity for random interaction. They spend time cleaning, they spend money trying to furnish all the rooms. They don’t always use all the rooms. They are wonderful people, but they are often unhappy for reasons that could be remedied by a different living situation.

I don’t know what the solution is. I don’t think we are going to convince companies to make less money because they want people to be happier. I think it’s hard for elected officials to mandate laws and restrictions against the natural order of making the most money possible. The idea of that upsets chambers of commerce and business in general because they worry that the natural order of their structure is being disrupted–and they will launch convincing campaigns to keep the order of things. (Although I’m not sure why in this day and age, the threat of a development company not building a subdivision in our town is such a threatening thing) Of course there are some elected officials who place the good of the community first and try to balance keeping the economy flowing along and providing for the community’s needs. These officials will not approve projects that are more of what we don’t need because of the constant refrain of “we need sales tax dollars”. But even they can’t approve projects that aren’t there and small house projects are not there.

It is harder and harder to create housing that is appropriate to actual needs. The increasing rules to keep developers in line also keep the local group that wants to build their own community in check. Land in places like Sonoma County is expensive. There is already so much development, that mindful people are hesitant to add to it with new building. There are zoning laws that prevent density. Neighbors fear density–developers conjure up visions of ghettos and traffic. These days it really means more land can be left undeveloped and that quality of life is higher for the residents in a planned community of small houses who will see each other, and have access to bike paths and community amenities. Neighbors benefit from density because they have increased community and even increased neighborhood amenities like bike paths or a neighbor with a rototiller instead of four new mcmansions on the acreage next door. Its a shift but a much needed one. I like seeing the neighbor kids play outside and I know they like being out there.

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