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Thread: Why homes so small in the 50's and 60's and city sprawl but homes are close together

  1. #1
    Cyburbian
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    Why homes so small in the 50's and 60's and city sprawl but homes are close together

    Well I get my questions answer here http://www.cyburbia.org/forums/showt...t=46420&page=2 and here http://www.cyburbia.org/forums/showthread.php?t=46580


    I have two questions.

    why where homes built in the 50's and 60's so small in the US and Canada?


    - was it lack momey
    -banks not allowing big mortgage
    -Lack of strong middle class
    -lack of skilled worders building homes to drive cost down
    -building materials

    Where the late 70's and very much so 80's and 90's bigger homes do to .

    -people have more money
    -banks allowing big mortgage
    -Strong middle class

    The last question what can cause city sprawl but deverpler density. I know it strange .

    But I have been to Calgary in Canada and it very much city sprawl more than Houston ,Atlanta or Denver in the US !! Nothing I seen in the US and Canada build like this and big time street hierarchy system with highways going from one subdivision to other subdivision and building so pulled back from road you build little subdivision .

    http://skytrainforsurrey.files.wordp...ary-sprawl.jpg
    http://farm6.staticflickr.com/5246/5...73d2ff6f_z.jpg
    http://farm6.staticflickr.com/5167/5...e9196016_b.jpg
    http://farm6.staticflickr.com/5083/5...bf0778dd_b.jpg
    http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3270/...94b53fef97.jpg

    Yet the homes are close together ? So Strange.

    Could it be the land is very cheap in Calgary and that why it so very big on sprawl but there is high demad for homes and low supply and that why the homes are close together?

    It strange so much sprawl the city but the homes are close together.

  2. #2
    Cyburbia Administrator Dan's avatar
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    why where homes built in the 50's and 60's so small in the US and Canada?

    - was it lack momey
    -banks not allowing big mortgage
    -Lack of strong middle class
    -lack of skilled worders building homes to drive cost down
    -building materials
    A variety of reasons.

    * Single-income households, with the husband bringing home the paycheck, were the norm. If a wife worked, it was usually a part time or administrative/clerical job with much lower pay. Professional jobs dominated by women, such as teaching and nursing, paid much less compared to jobs requiring an equivalent level of education and work where men dominated. (There's still some disparity between male-dominated professionals and female-dominated professions, although it's not as glaring as in the past, and there's been more gender crossover; e.g. female engineers and male nurses.)



    * After WWII, there was a massive housing shortage in the United States, and returning veterans needed someplace to live. They also didn't have thousands of dollars in the bank for a down payment for a large house. Thus, a massive demand for housing that one could buy now, not after they saved up for a decade. In the United States, mortgages with low down payments helped get returning veterans into homes of their own. (Conventional mortgages in the US were a product of the 1930s, as a response to the massive amount of foreclosures during the Great Depression from the inability to pay off a balloon mortgage.)

    * Real estate was somewhat less expensive (in inflation-adjusted dollars) compared to now, especially in major metropolitan areas that are now notoriously expensive, but the price of food, clothing, durable goods, travel, and so on was much more expensive. This was moderated somewhat by having fewer possessions or conveniences; e.g. smaller wardrobes, only one television, etc. Households has less disposable income, so they spent a smaller percentage of their earnings on housing than today.


    That's $157,000 in 2010 US dollars. A bargain by the standards of pricey coastal metros, but for the rest of the US, about average; maybe a bit high, maybe a bit low.

    * Families were larger, which also had an impact on household expenses.



    * Manufacturing employed a much higher percentage of the workforce than today. Thanks to unionization, manufacturing salaries were very good, but not always comparable to professional salaries.

    * The 1950s and 1960s were a era not far removed from the 1920s and 1930s, when housing overcrowding was common, many houses still had outdoor privies, and living conditions were generally far more spartan for a much larger percentage of the population. A 1000 square foot Cape Cod, small by today's standards, was still a huge improvement over what many people grew up with.
    Growth for growth's sake is the ideology of the cancer cell. -- Edward Abbey

  3. #3
    Cyburbian DetroitPlanner's avatar
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    Smaller homes and lots were easier to develop as well. You could get a lot more for your money in terms of running infrastructure (Sewer, Water, Gas, Electric, Roads, Transit) than you can with the much larger homes.

    As Dan stated, there was a huge housing shortage. Add to that, the baby boom. People still valued their neighbors, wanted things walkable, and transit. In the 1970's and 80's there were still lots of middle class folks but there were fewer kids, I am assuming that the large homes were to fit the new paradigm that real wealth was in real estate and bigger is better. This trend continued right until about six or seven years ago when many realized that too much house could be a bad thing.
    We hope for better things; it will arise from the ashes - Fr Gabriel Richard 1805

  4. #4
    Cyburbian
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    I'd say a lot of things that were considered luxuries in the 50s and 60s became much more affordable in the 70s. Multiple bathrooms and appliances became things people couldn't live without and this was reflected in the housing stock. Having a single bathroom and no washer/dryer hookups today is what makes a lot of older housing stock so hard to sell.

    Then of course people decided to acquire more stuff so their houses had to be bigger to accommodate. This means bigger and more rooms. Like now there are both formal and informal living and dining areas in most homes.

    Off-topic:
    Personally I have a hard time understanding the need for formal areas in a home. It just seems like a waste of space and furniture to me. That could just be because I'm young and don't have many people over though.

  5. #5
    Cyburbian michaelskis's avatar
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    Awesome question.

    My two cents is because of advertising. The 1939 World’s Fair exhibit “Futurama” created by GM showed a busy industrialist style of a City and a contracting suburban lifestyle. Because of the popularity, General Motors aggressively pushed their perception of the “American Dream” so hard with various media sources that it became popular. Other companies including Coke, picked up on it too with their advertising.

    It was not always this way though. In the late 1800 and early 1900, there was notable split in the size of homes. Companies mass produced small cottages close to the plants for workers to walk from the house to the plant, and those with larger incomes built grand Victorian homes far larger than what most people would build today. For example, my house was built in 1890 and is almost 3,400 square feet, not including the full basement and massive attic. However it sits on a lot that is 75 feet wide and there is 14 feet between my house and my neighbor’s house. Many of the houses around me a are from around the same time period and most are around the same square footage. However in another neighborhood not too far from many of the former factories, the homes were built in the late 1890’s and are around 1,200 square feet.

    Off-topic:
    In response to Blide's OT, we do a lot of entertaining and they come in handy. We have a formal foyer, entry way, front room with the kids toys, living room, office/library, formal dining room, butler's pantry, butler's pass through under the main stairs, and kitchen all on the first floor. However because we also have massive pocket doors, most of the rooms can open up into each other creating a nice balance between separate yet together.

    But I understand your point. If we were to build a new house, we would go with an open floor plan on the first floor so everyone can be in the same room all the time.
    Not my monkey, not my circus. - Old Polish Proverb

  6. #6
    Cyburbia Administrator Dan's avatar
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    A couple of images from the 'burb in Cleveland where I used to live.





    The 1920s were a time of unbridled prosperity, and the emergence of the middle class. The zeitgeist of the era was quite similar to the 1990s and early/mid-2000s.

    At the time, the Cleveland metropolitan area was one of the fastest growing regions of the country. Factories galore, headquarters for many Fortune 500 companies, and home to literally hundreds of wealthy industrialists. Cleveland was the Silicon Valley of the era, and there was a boom in the construction of move-up and very large houses. The suburb where I lived was emerging as a middle to upper middle income community in the 1920s, but that would change.

    However, the Depression hit, the housing market dried up, and lot values plummeted. WWII followed. After WWII, there was pent-up demand for housing, but land values hadn't recovered to their pre-Depression levels. This made the construction of small houses economically viable in what 20 or 30 years earlier were nascent aspirational suburbs. There's subdivisions all over the Northeast and Great Lakes region that started off as upscale projects in the 1920s, and finished as cookie-cutter tract housing in the 1950s and 1960s, but they're especially common in Cleveland's burbs.

    Google around, and compare real estate ads from the 1920s with those of the 1950s. There's a big difference. Ads from the 1920s were about class, lifestyle, and escape from the sounds and smells of the industrial city. Those from the 1950s were about getting an affordable roof over your head.
    Growth for growth's sake is the ideology of the cancer cell. -- Edward Abbey

  7. #7
    As late as 1949, a third of UShousing units lacked full kitchens or baths. So moving to a house with one athanda full kitchenwas still a step up. By 1970,virtually everyone but the poorest had these features, so luxury was defined upwards. Then came the idea that every child should have their own bedroom. Perceived hosing needs kept increasing.

    The standard lot size for much of the suburban US was 6000 square feet from the 30s to the 60s that was the FHA standard. It want until later that tastes changed (in some places, but not everywhere).

  8. #8
    Cyburbian Plus Zoning Goddess's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Gotta Speakup View post
    the FHA standard..
    Jesus, those people are insane! I sold a house years ago and they would not approve a loan for the buyer unless I painted the entire outside of the house (2 paint flakes on a corner in the back of the house) and replaced a light fixture in the house that had been perfectly adequate for 30 years ("light not strong enough from fixture for entryway"). For a house priced at 58K that was so stupid.

  9. #9
    Quote Originally posted by nec209 View post
    Well I get my questions answer here http://www.cyburbia.org/forums/showt...t=46420&page=2 and here http://www.cyburbia.org/forums/showthread.php?t=46580


    I have two questions.

    why where homes built in the 50's and 60's so small in the US and Canada?


    - was it lack momey
    -banks not allowing big mortgage
    -Lack of strong middle class
    -lack of skilled worders building homes to drive cost down
    -building materials

    Where the late 70's and very much so 80's and 90's bigger homes do to .

    -people have more money
    -banks allowing big mortgage
    -Strong middle class

    The last question what can cause city sprawl but deverpler density. I know it strange .

    But I have been to Calgary in Canada and it very much city sprawl more than Houston ,Atlanta or Denver in the US !! Nothing I seen in the US and Canada build like this and big time street hierarchy system with highways going from one subdivision to other subdivision and building so pulled back from road you build little subdivision .

    http://skytrainforsurrey.files.wordp...ary-sprawl.jpg
    http://farm6.staticflickr.com/5246/5...73d2ff6f_z.jpg
    http://farm6.staticflickr.com/5167/5...e9196016_b.jpg
    http://farm6.staticflickr.com/5083/5...bf0778dd_b.jpg
    http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3270/...94b53fef97.jpg

    Yet the homes are close together ? So Strange.

    Could it be the land is very cheap in Calgary and that why it so very big on sprawl but there is high demad for homes and low supply and that why the homes are close together?

    It strange so much sprawl the city but the homes are close together.


    My hunch is that the middle class was much stronger in the '50s and '60s than it is today, since labor unions were more common and a lot more powerful (and unfortunately, more corrupt).

    I think a better question may be why are homes today so big - since 1970, the average household size in this country has decreased, but the average size of a new home has increased. Why? I don't think a person is evil if they own a 3,000 or 4,000 sq. ft home, I just think it's one of those questions that nobody really ever stops to think about.

    Honestly, I think it's because people born before WWII tended to be a lot more conservative and much less materialistic - they lived through the Depression and the war, a long era in which people were required to conserve resources and money. Credit cards, and the "buy-now-pay-later" culture came about with the rise of the Boomers.

    By the way Dan, I love those pictures of that old neighborhood in Cleveland. Streetcar suburbs are the best.

  10. #10
    Cyburbian mike gurnee's avatar
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    Relaxation of credit. Look no further.

  11. #11
    Cyburbian Plus Whose Yur Planner's avatar
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    Different expectations, my grandparents raised 3 children in a 3 bedroom -1 bath house in the 50's and 60's that most people today would find claustrophobic. My grandmother spent the rest of her life in that house with a postage stamp yard.
    When did I go from Luke Skywalker to Obi-Wan Kenobi?

  12. #12
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    There's another reason that home sizes ballooned, beginning in the 1970s, and escalated during the 1980s and '90s. . .

    Blame it on late 20th century America's increasing obsession with "celebrity culture" -- as exemplified by the "groundbreaking" TV series Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous, the rise of Cable TV, and all the 24/7 real estate / home improvement / reality show / conspicuous consumption programming that followed.

    Ordinary schmoes and schmoettes flicked on their TVs or opened People magazine, saw fabulous people living fabulous lives in fabulously bloated houses, and aspired to live just like them. Thanks to easy credit, they could live a watered-down version of it at the very least. And property developers were happy to oblige.

    As a result, millions of people ended up with oversized homes packed to the ceiling with expensive clutter, which they neither needed nor could truly afford. Call it surface affluence.

    True, the bursting of the housing bubble spoiled the party. But that Living Large, overshop 'til you drop, "Keeping Up with the Kardashians" mindset is still out there, bubbling under the surface. It may be on "mute" right now for many. But it hasn't gone away.

    -----------------
    Last edited by dilly; 03 Oct 2012 at 4:46 PM.

  13. #13
    Cyburbian
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    People have generally always gone for the biggest house they could reasonably afford and the past was no different from today. You're focusing on the small ranchers and cape cods of the 1950s but you're ignoring that plenty of large houses were built in the 1950s too - huge, roomy ranch houses, split levels and colonials built for junior executives on one-acre lots are pretty common in most cities. Before the depression the middle and upper middle classes had generously sized houses as well, and the larger houses built in the 1920s remained sought after by the same classes in the 1950s (and today as well). Because there was already an existing stock of larger houses the demand to build new large houses wasn't as high as new small houses.

    But the small houses of the 1950s weren't a product of people downsizing to smaller house. They were bought by a generation that had previously lived in apartments or small rowhouses. Suburban living was made affordable for this particular group of people, let's call them the lower middle class, by mass building tiny houses on tiny lots, and the emergence of widespread car ownership allowed these houses to become rational housing choices preferable to an apartment or rowhouse in an urban area. The post-war suburban boom was largely a result of people realizing that they could suddenly afford what had previously been a luxury restricted to the prosperous middle and upper middle classes - a single family house on a tree lined lot in the suburbs, even if on a much smaller scale.

  14. #14
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by Jazzman View post
    My hunch is that the middle class was much stronger in the '50s and '60s than it is today, since labor unions were more common and a lot more powerful (and unfortunately, more corrupt).

    I think a better question may be why are homes today so big - since 1970, the average household size in this country has decreased, but the average size of a new home has increased. Why? I don't think a person is evil if they own a 3,000 or 4,000 sq. ft home, I just think it's one of those questions that nobody really ever stops to think about.

    Honestly, I think it's because people born before WWII tended to be a lot more conservative and much less materialistic - they lived through the Depression and the war, a long era in which people were required to conserve resources and money. Credit cards, and the "buy-now-pay-later" culture came about with the rise of the Boomers.

    By the way Dan, I love those pictures of that old neighborhood in Cleveland. Streetcar suburbs are the best.
    The thing is the 50's and 60's was the start of the middle class almost everyone had a job do to major shortage of workers and stong unions and good pay .But most people did not take a big mortgage and big credit.

    In the 80's and 90's people needed two incomes and big mortgage and big credit. Take out the credit system and mortgage and the US and Canada would have no middle class.

    What I have seen in suburbs in Toronto is homes build in the 50's , 60's and 70's a small bungalow house and big property and long drive way many times with no garage. Now homes build in the 80's , 90's and to now yes big garage , short driveway , little property , houses close to each other but two story and much bigger.


    And there was not much building going on in the 30's and 40's but some places that did build homes in the 30's and 40's homes where very small.

    In way only 20's was proper middle class .

  15. #15
    Cyburbian
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    Your implication that there was no middle class prior to the 1950s or even the 1920s is not on the mark. There was a large middle class in the US and Canada dating back to the 19th century, if anything the plethora of neighborhoods of comfortable sized bungalows and colonials and Victorians proves this point, and there are still plenty of large, roomy houses built in the 19th century that's around for you to look at and speculate about. The housing boom of the 1920s was fueled by cheap credit. The Victorian housing booms was also partially fueled by credit although in those days the required down payment for mortgages was higher. Credit has always been around and if you read 19th century fiction, you'll notice that credit and debt is a major theme in many of these books.

    Part of the reason behind the postwar suburban boom is that the minimum down payment for mortgages was substantially reduced, allowing more and more people to take out mortgages and buy their own houses. Before the war, down payments of 40, 50 percent was pretty common. Post war the down payments requirements were reduced to 20-25%. These mortgages were backed by federally funded programs which made them safer than the private mortgages of the prewar days.

    The shrinking lot size and swelling house size is a result of two factors: 1. the supply of land in major metro areas declined as they started to be built out, forcing developers to reduce the lot sizes, and 2. the decline in the cost of building materials allowed developers to build even bigger houses.



    Quote Originally posted by nec209 View post
    The thing is the 50's and 60's was the start of the middle class almost everyone had a job do to major shortage of workers and stong unions and good pay .But most people did not take a big mortgage and big credit.

    In the 80's and 90's people needed two incomes and big mortgage and big credit. Take out the credit system and mortgage and the US and Canada would have no middle class.

    What I have seen in suburbs in Toronto is homes build in the 50's , 60's and 70's a small bungalow house and big property and long drive way many times with no garage. Now homes build in the 80's , 90's and to now yes big garage , short driveway , little property , houses close to each other but two story and much bigger.


    And there was not much building going on in the 30's and 40's but some places that did build homes in the 30's and 40's homes where very small.

    In way only 20's was proper middle class .

  16. #16
    Cyburbian
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    Other thing I will like to say is how so many babyboomers laugh at the younger generation or immigrants buying these big homes today and swimming in debt.

    Most babyboomers I know fear getting in debt and go on and on how their house was so cheap when they got it and how they hardly got into debt like people today and this is some thing the younger generation and immigrants don't have problem with !! But that look at this way the government and media is NOT going to say to people that with out getting into major debt the US and Canada has no middle class any more.

    The unemployment now is 15% some cities 20% even the fact officially they like say it in 7% to 9% range when it does not count people out work for longer time or people that get sick and other problems and cannot work.Doing the depression more than 1 in 4 where out of work.


    The middle class died long ago .So yes there are bigger houses and looks like people have more money but no the younger generation or immigrants don't have money and are swimming in debt..

    I think the babyboomers should have got in more debt than today there needs to be less debt today.


    I come from large family and those small one story houses they got in the 50's and 60's and 70's many of them still living their housee most them 60's , 70's and 80's old now and some in old age home now cause they cannot look after them self !!! And they go on and on how people today in 20's ,30's and 40's are swimming in debt.

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