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Thread: American Housing Standards – spun-off from the “homelessness” thread

  1. #1
    Cyburbian Michele Zone's avatar
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    American Housing Standards – spun-off from the “homelessness” thread

    Sorry it took me so long to get back to this. I didn’t forget. I have just been a tad overwhelmed. These are some examples of how housing policy interferes with creation of affordable housing, like I promised Cardinal (I am not sure if I have this in the right forum, so I certainly will not be offended if a mod moves it, ):

    I have read Jay Shafer’s story in a couple of magazines and he now has a website: http://www.tumbleweedhouses.com/ The short version is that he decided to build an ecologically sound home, all of 130 square feet in size. He ran up against “minimum-size standards” that made his tiny home illegal. He circumvented these standards by putting wheels on his house and calling it a “travel trailer”.

    To quote the last paragraph in the article in Natural Home Magazine (House on Wheels, Nov/Dec 2000 – excerpt http://www.naturalhomemagazine.com/c...%20on%20Wheels):
    “The good news is that minimum size standards have recently started to erode, as lawsuits concerning their constitutionality have forced municipalities to drop the limits. The bad news is that the standards are still far from extinct, and every time a community does manage to rid itself of these antiquated laws, it seems a handful of developers steps in to impose even more restrictive size limits in the form of covenants.”

    I could not find any article on that architect who did whatever I was thinking of. The article I kept that I thought was about that was really about this: http://www.ruralstudio.com/


    http://www.weldcity.com/old/10.htm I cannot find anything that directly says it, but I believe this is the French project I saw on TV where they designed “publicly assisted housing” and people qualifying for public assistance couldn’t afford to live in some of the units because it used an innovative design that made the apartments unusually roomy and rent for assisted housing was calculated based on the square footage. So, this “affordable housing” wasn’t affordable due to the way the housing policy was written, if memory serves.

    And, last but not least, back in the 1920’s, after whites burned “Black Wall Street” to the ground, the zoning board enacted an ordinance for “minimum standards” so the “slum” housing could not be rebuilt. I saw this on TV at some point. A black lawyer fought it – from his tent that winter. I don’t remember all the details. But I think this is the perfect example of setting housing standards so high that it forces people to be homeless. This incident was blatant and racist discrimination that I think anyone can see. We generally do it more subtly these days but it has the same basic effect: average new homes are more luxurious than ever, meanwhile, homelessness is on the rise nationwide.

    http://www.lunda.com/black%20wall%20st.htm Greenwood District, Tulsa OK
    http://www.villagevoice.com/issues/0318/brune.php
    "In the aftermath, white leaders offered a plan to help blacks rebuild. The catch was they had to move about five miles to the north. The surviving black leaders balked and, for months, while camping outdoors, they rebuilt. "
    http://www.ncobra.org/pdffiles/Green...nrec7-1-03.pdf
    "D. The Aftermath
    If the city of Tulsa’s shameful role in allowing and encouraging the destruction of Greenwood were not egregious enough, shortly after the massacre on June 7th, 1921, the city zoning board enacted an ordinance that “made rebuilding residences in the area prohibitively expensive” because the city had plans to “convert Greenwood into an industrial district.” "

  2. #2
    Cyburbian martini's avatar
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    MZ, have you looked into Community Land Trusts? In terms of affrodability, the CLT model does quite a bit in terms of making homes available to those who qualify. We could be approaching this from different angles though. CLT's are subsidized in the manner that the land is NOT part of the purchase price of the house. The land is held in trust by the CLT and leased to the homeowner on a 99 year lease. THe proponents of CLTs figure that the land is the part of the equation that keeps many from being able to afford a home. From the research I've done, I tend to agree. This in no way is meant to diminsh the fact that modern, suburban home design(size. I mean, who NEEDS a 2000sqft home? I live in one, and we don't use it all. The second floor is closed off in the witnter.) itself does not influence housing cost. I can add more once I get to work(at home now). I've got lots more research there.

    Oh yeah, I just bought the Rural Studio book to read. I LOVE the stuff they've done. I wouldn't hesitate to live in some of the structures they've built down there. What they've done is highly admirable.
    You're more boring than you know.

  3. #3
    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
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    I've seen the Rural Studio book. There are some wonderful designs, but it is not practical as a solution to housing affordability on the kind of scale we need in this country.

    Is land really the issue in the cost of housing? I suppose it depends on where you live. Here it is perhaps 20-25% of the cost of a detached house ($30,000 for a 9000 square foot lot). The real issue is the home itself. How big does it really need to be? Does it have to have attractive architectural elements on the facade? Do you need good insulation and weatherproofing? Do you need an attached two-car garage? Some of these questions you may want to answer "yes" and others "no," but they all impact on final cost.

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    The Rural Studio book is pretty neat! Mockbee was a major loss to the architecture profession

    (Although, as one critic points out, Mockbee still suffers a bit from the "tortured artist creator" school of architecture-look at some of those angles )

    Michelle: Some interesting points you bring up. There was a whole movement of "self-help housing" in "developing countries" where the State or NGOs provided very basic shells with utilities, which were, over time, improved by the families who had migrated from rural areas.

    The biggest issue, of course, is the social capital of the communities. From my reading (a while ago, os I have, like usual, no links or sources), the geckondus outside Istanbul and Ankara were socially successful, with a great deal of improvement over time. Contrast this with social conditions in Brazillian favelas, with their violent gang control and social turmoil.

    I may be getting slightly off topic here, but since the United States and global turbo-capitalism are merrily destroying any industrial middle class, we have to begin accepting low-standards housing areas for our new "third world" workforce.

  5. #5
    Cyburbian Michele Zone's avatar
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    Originally posted by BKM

    I may be getting slightly off topic here, but since the United States and global turbo-capitalism are merrily destroying any industrial middle class, we have to begin accepting low-standards housing areas for our new "third world" workforce.
    Um, I think you miss my real point BKM. I am NOT for "slum" housing. Jay Shafer makes the point that by building a very small house, he was able to afford to spend 5 times as much per square foot and his house is of very high quality. The housing in France was designed to be roomier than typical "affordable housing" and then couldn't be filled with low-income residents because of the way some policy was written. And "Black Wall Street" was NOT "slum" housing. It was the wealthiest black neighborhood in the nation -- wealthier than a lot of the surrounding white ares and that is precisely why it was burned to the ground.

    If I recall right, the whites who burned Greenwood to the ground wrote up some new housing standard to "reduce the flammibility of newly built housing in order to prevent any future tragedies involving an entire neighborhood burning to the ground". Excuse me? The building standards had nothing to do with Greenwood burning to the ground. Not a damn thing. But no one was outlawing KKK members and jealous poor white folks from throwing torches into people's homes and then shooting the residents as they fled, followed by looting of whatever remained. No, they white-washed the entire incident and buried it so effectively that it was decades before the story could be told.

    This issue is a lot more complicated than this and this thread could probably be merged with the one on US housing policy, which I plan to post my thoughts in as well. The tax breaks for middle class housing promote the production of those 2000+ sq. ft. new homes while not doing a damn thing for people wanting a modest home who can't afford a middle-class mansion. I owned a house in Kansas for 7 years. It was a 3 bedroom, one bath 1284 sq. ft. starter home in a decent neighborhood, just behind one of the top 10 public schools in the entire nation which had won some kind of Presidential Award for excellence. I NEVER benefitted from the tax break on mortgage interest because my house wasn't expensive enough and I bought when interest rates were very low, then refinanced at the 25 year low in interest rates. It was NOT remotely "slum" housing.

    Seriously: there is a huge and untapped area of quality housing between "slum"/ third world housing and the 2000+ sq. ft. new homes that Americans typically build to house a family of THREE. In the 1960's, average new homes were around 1200 sq. ft. and the families moving into them had more kids than we do now. It was a time when we had enormous individual wealth and the first time in the history of the world that a nation had a very large middle class. And people had all that wealth in part because they had much more modest expectations than we do today, since so many of them had lived through The Great Depression. And at this point, I am going to stop and go post in response to Geogplanner's (?) request for information on US Housing Policy -- Because otherwise I would just end up repeating myself a whole lot.

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    I don't disagree with you, Michelle. My only concern (I think you share this) is that we are constatnly "improving" our codes-which often, but not always leads to higher costs.

    My other concern is that "slum" housing is often better than five families crammed into one "to code" rental rancher.

    Self-help housing doesn't have to be slum housing, either. Mercy Housing built a nice subdivision off Peachtree Avenue that involved self-help/sweat equity.

    I share your frustration with a housing market that produces 3,000 square foot houses for Bay Area families of three. Its the market-Seeno (not to name local names) bought their land three decades ago, but, when they look at impact fees and the market (profitability)-they now build $400,000 2500 square foot homes in the newest phases of Southborok instead of the 1100 square foot ranchers they built in the original Cordelia Village.

  7. #7
    Cyburbian Michele Zone's avatar
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    Originally posted by BKM
    I don't disagree with you, Michelle. My only concern (I think you share this) is that we are constatnly "improving" our codes-which often, but not always leads to higher costs.

    My other concern is that "slum" housing is often better than five families crammed into one "to code" rental rancher.
    Okay, agreed. I think my problem is with what you put in quotes and that tells me you do see it the same way: "Improving" our codes. We have this fantasy that we are "improving" our codes but, in essence, we are narrowing our definition of what is acceptable at a time when the American population is diversifying in characteristics. The "improving" generally gets written up with that fantasy that we are producing homes for middle-class nuclear families and does not give any maneuvering room if you have a different set of characteristics and a different lifestyle. Since people are increasingly more varied in lifestyle, etc, these "improvements" amount to a straight- jacket.

  8. #8
    Cyburbian Michele Zone's avatar
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    Originally posted by martini
    MZ, have you looked into Community Land Trusts?
    No, I haven't. I have bookmarked the URL. I will look at it. Thank you.

  9. #9
    Cyburbian Duke Of Dystopia's avatar
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    I guess I am one spoiled midwesterner

    With home prices like that, and a crapy school system (generally), Why does anybody stay in California for cripes sake? You could do much better for a 5th of that cost in flyover country

    2000 sqf is not big
    I can't deliver UTOPIA, but I can create a HELL for you to LIVE in :)DoD:(

  10. #10
    Cyburbian mike gurnee's avatar
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    How much have ADA requirements driven up the costs of multi-family housing? How much has lead paint added to the costs of rehab?

  11. #11
    Cyburbian iamme's avatar
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    How many fire escapes will never be used?

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    Member Wulf9's avatar
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    One reason for high cost housing is government subsidies. The income tax writeoff and the (current) Fed induced low interest rates are subsidies that add to the cost of a house. In California, we have the added Prop 13 subsidy that allows most Californians to pay less than required property taxes.

    How do subsidies affect housing costs? People usually buy based on monthly payments. Our affordable housing program did an analysis of costs at 8% interest (1999) and the mid 2003 subsidized rate of between 5-6%. The same monthly payment at 1999 rates could afford a house costing 30% more in 2003. Interestingly, the housing appreciation was just a bit more than 30% over that time period. Same monthly payments buy a house costing $100,000 more.

    The problem with these subsidies is that they drive up the underlying land values, so you can't build market rate low cost housing and any subsidized housing has such a high land to building value that you get very little product for a lot of money.

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    Defending California

    Duke: I am an ex-midwesterner, and to me, California is "worth it." I would never willingly move back to Indiana.
    Plus, I bought my townhouse eight years ago, before the latest run-up inprices. My town does support its schools somewhat, and they are not total disasters. (My workplace-that's another issue)

    Landscape, climate, diversity of the population (and cuisines! I like GOOD Mexican and Asian food, something you couldn't get in Indiana when I was growing up). There are midwestern cities that have an urban character, but most that I have experienced are like my hometown, Fort Wayne-dead downtowns, commercial strips with no landscaping, design review, or sense of anything but absolute lowest common denominator architecture (not that Fairfield is perfect, but there is nothing in Fort Wayne like our nicer new neighborhood shopping centers) So there is a design issue there, for me. And, not all midwestern cities are poor that way (I love Chicago) .

    Economics-every time I talk to my mother, its another plant moving to Mexico-or an long time corporation bought by another conglomerate, who moved the headquarters to a big city because they couldn'tattract executives as easily. Sure, things are cheaper there, but...

    There are a lot of problems here, and I frankly agree with you that the State's population has grown too fast. But, I drive around my home town and, although housing is cheaper and the schools are better, in Fort Wayne I can't hop in a car and be in the nation's largest marsh in ten minutes. Or by the Ocean in an hour. And, I just don't fit in.

  14. #14
    Cyburbian Duke Of Dystopia's avatar
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    BKM,

    I'm just given you some business!

    I am well aware that places are a lot like people, it takes all kinds

    As a second country to live in I would probably pick Germany over any others, obviously good/mild weather is not high on my priority list I even want to visit Cal. some day, I hear they have a wonderful industrial music scene in some parts, and a drive up the coastal highway fell through a couple years back. I so wanted to ride through death valley at high noon on my way there but the damn bike broke down

    Oh well, got my whole life yet
    I can't deliver UTOPIA, but I can create a HELL for you to LIVE in :)DoD:(

  15. #15
    Cyburbian Michele Zone's avatar
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    Oh, that is so funny! I thought about responding to The Duke but figured he was just sort of doing a little Victory Dance, taking a minute to appreciate what he's got.

    I lived in Kansas -- and owned a house there. On one income, with really little kids, and we were in our mid-twenties. My husband makes a lot more money now -- even relatively, not just in absolute terms -- and we were flat out told that if we got a not just a "Fixer with a capital F" but a FIXER -- and also incredibly lucky -- we might be able to buy a house here. Maybe. lol. That was before we took out the student loan for GIS school. I loved Manhattan, Kansas. I wanted to settle there. I loved my house. I loved the school system. I loved our lifestyle.

    Except for one teensy problem: I was deathly ill in Kansas. I am allergic to something there and the winters were colder than where I lived in Germany. lol. I was so deathly ill that I was on steroids part of every year and I left to -- get this -- spend 6 or 8 weeks of "quality time" with my psycho family in Georgia (where I also have allergies but there are allergies and then there are ALLERGIES) every single year that we lived there. I was also a single parent half of every single year there, whether my husband was in Saudi or not.

    When we moved, we got to the Colorado border and I began coughing up crap after every hot meal -- clearly, my body was throwing off the effects of living there for 3 1/2 years. We got to the Rockies and I pretty much decided then and there that I never wanted to live East of the Rockies again.

    The schools do suck in California -- if you mean K-12. College here is awesome. And I could write a long letter of recommendation as to why it is good to homeschool gifted kids here. In fact, I have done exactly that in a homeschooling forum. It turns out that my kids simply do not "fit" at school and I probably would have ended up homeschooling no matter where we lived. So it matters little to me that the K-12 schools in Fairfield really and truly suck. It matters much more to me that the community college in Fairfield has a written policy as to how one can enroll a K-12 child in class there and they have had quite a few such kids. I have met and spoken with one of them and the paperwork is readily available. The class I tried to enroll my child in got cancelled and ... we will try again some other time.

    And the medical resources in the SF Bay Area are uniquely capable of providing some kind of basic, adequate care for me and my oldest child. For that reason alone I may be here "for life". (Of course, things may change and our disorder may be less obscure in 20 years, so "never say never".) When I got here, I finally felt like I was Home, at long last. But if I had not been so deathly ill in Kansas, there was a time when I wanted to make that my home, possibly for life.

    I do consider California to be Worth It and I do think I have the highest quality of life I have ever had. But the dire housing situation here is part of why I determinedly fast-talked my school into letting me take that Homeless and Public Policy class at SFSU.

    The fact is, BKM, that most folks do not have your problem. Your problem is your oversized brain. That's a problem I can relate to and it is why I never had real friends when I was younger. But other folks might appreciate the generally affordable housing in the Midwest more than the "atmosphere" and amenities here. Because Manhattan, Kansas is a college town, it had an intellectual environment. It was the best of both worlds. Except for that darn little detail that breathing the air was killing me, Manhattan would have been the ideal spot to raise my family. I loved the Midwest. I have come to love California more. But I would drink a toast to the Midwest any day. They have it going on out there. And not just because you can still afford to buy a house there.

    But before you get the idea that I am all on Duke's side, let me say that Terre Haute was the most wrist-slashingly boring place I ever had the displeasure of being subjected to. I am glad you escaped.

  16. #16
    Cyburbian Michele Zone's avatar
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    Originally posted by mike gurnee
    How much has lead paint added to the costs of rehab?
    Respectfully: I don't know how much cost it has added but lead paint is not one I want to mess with.

    Reagan asked for some stats on how much money it would save America if we quit restricting the use of lead in gasoline because he wanted to change the law and allow more lead in gasoline and "save money" for business. The guy doing the stats compiled the data and ran the stats to the one-sided question asked by the president -- then decided to look at the other side of the equation: He ran the stats on the environmental and medical costs of adding more lead to gasoline. The results changed Reagan's mind and that law went in the other direction, removing lead from gasoline. (The guy's work became so controversial that he had to leave his job for academia in order to keep doing that kind of work. He also won some kind of humanitarian award for it.)

    I wrote a college paper once that basically argued that we are shooting ourselves in the foot financially by not providing free prenatal care. A lot of pregnant women can't get medical insurance due to their "condition". The last stats I read: it costs about $700 to provide prenatal care for the entire pregnancy. The premature babies that can result from a lack of prenatal care can easily cost upwards of $250,000 in their first months and be left with life-long, debilitating consequences. You wouldn't have to prevent too many preemies to pay for free prenatal care for every pregnancy, at state expense.

    People seem to often feel like they can choose whether or not to pay for something. But that isn't always true. Often, the question is not "whether or not it will cost you", but: "When will it cost you? How much will it cost you? And what kind of quality of life does that money buy you?" I think we would spend less money overall and also have much higher quality of life in this country if we paid for the free prenatal care rather than for so many sickly preemies at state expense. The stinginess with which such things are treated until it is a serious crisis only raises our costs and lowers our quality of life.

    I have two special needs kids. I can't begin to explain to you what it has been like to raise my oldest child. I did not intend to be a homemaker but his care required my attention 24/7 for many years. I concluded when he was 3 years old that I had until his brain quit growing to make a REAL difference -- that if I waited for him to be a 15 year old juvenile delinquent, it would be too late to fix. When I tell stories about what he was like when he was little, people look at me in shock and imply that I am Telling Tall Tales, so I generally avoid talking about it these days without a really good reason. I wouldn't wish a child like that on anyone -- and lead poisoning can create a sickly, mentally impaired child with issues akin to what I had to deal with.

    Children do things like chew on window sills. Their small bodies and developing brains take much less exposure to toxins than it does for an adult to have a serious effect. Heavy metal poisoning is hard to diagnose and also hard to treat. Brain damage from such poisoning early in life can have irreversible, lifelong effects. Remediation for lead paint is not an expense I want to 'save money' on. That is one where I advocate we pay the price and "do not count the cost": It will save money in the long run and it buys a higher quality of life than paying the medical bills and other expenses that can be caused by NOT paying the price.

  17. #17
    Member octa girl's avatar
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    what kind of regulations??

    It seems that people have mentioned everything from building codes to land use regulations - it seems that each type of regulation would have unique impacts on the development quality and housing affordability equation. Ultimately I see the question of highly regulated versus lower regulation as a question about whether policy should prioritize short-term housing supply or long term housing, neighborhood, and regional sustainability.

    Undoubtedly regulations and restrictions in luxury neighborhoods with private covenants, and neighborhoods that are cursed with exclusionary zoning, will escalate the price of housing - often making affordable housing construction infeasible. However regulations that aim to encourage smart growth or encourage high quality housing development - such that a home will last over 50 years, may impact short term costs for new owners - but long term will make housing and transit more affordable for the community.

    I haven't read this piece in total - but I recommend this academic review of specifically growth management regulation's impact on housing pricing.

    Nelson, Arthur C., Rolf Pendall, Casey J. Dawkins, and Gerrit J. Knaap. 2002. The Link Between Growth Management and Housing Affordability: The Academic Evidence. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Center on Urban and Metropolitan Policy.
    http://www.brookings.edu/es/urban/publications/growthmang.pdf

    Planners, policy makers, and active residents, are in the privileged position to decide whether to weigh immediate need of housing or long term sustainability more heavily. Personally I want to chose both by finding feasible short term housing solutions that do not interfere with long term sustainability objectives. but i don't have any ideas of what that would look like.

  18. #18
    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
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    Octa Girl, you bring up a very good point. We should be looking at the total cost of basic needs rather than simply housing. Location makes a difference. If a household can meet their needs without having to own a car, they can afford better housing (theoretically). That should favor an urban form, which may already explain concentrations of poverty in cities. Anyway, it is a very complex issue, and I am not up to it on a Monday morning.

  19. #19
    Cyburbian AubieTurtle's avatar
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    the keep getting bigger

    This was in today's Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

    Douglas County says houses must get bigger

    The Douglas County Commission last week raised the minimum square footage requirement for new houses from 1,300 square feet to 1,500. Additionally, at least half the houses in a new subdivision must contain at least 1,800 square feet.

    The new regulations also offer developers incentives for building houses of 2,500 square feet or larger, said Eric Linton, Douglas County's development services director. The bigger houses can be built on smaller lots — of a minimum 13,500 square feet, instead of the standard 15,000-square-foot minimum. The incentives apply only to areas with sewer service.

    The new regulations will squeeze people looking for affordable housing, especially first-time home buyers, predicted Chris Collier, executive officer of the Douglas Home Builders Association. Nearly 80 percent of the houses in Douglas County were worth less than $150,000 in 2000, according to the U.S. census.

    The county's population grew by one-third over the last decade as growth moved westward, lured by lower housing prices.

    -------------------------------------

    It amazes me that a government entity would actually provide incentives for building houses over 2500 sq ft. Sounds to me like the people in Douglas County are trying to use economics to keep undesirables out. Since they can't use land prices (they are way out in sprawltopia) to do, they'll use minimum house sizes. No wonder less and less people can afford to buy a house.

  20. #20
    Cyburbian H's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by AubieTurtle
    Douglas County says houses must get bigger

    The Douglas County Commission last week raised the minimum square footage requirement for new houses from 1,300 square feet to 1,500. Additionally, at least half the houses in a new subdivision must contain at least 1,800 square feet.
    Interesting. Little Douglas County wants to become a “high-end” suburb. House size is an interesting means of economic discrimination. We (as a nation) have way too many codes and ordinances that dictate what houses can and can not look like. This is why we have the banal sprawl with the cookie cutter effect and the loss of our creativity. I am for getting rid of ALL aesthetic codes. Let people express themselves and live in a building that fits them as well as their budget.

    PS. My family is responsible for one the first major subdivisions out in Douglas County, Arbor Station. On behalf of them, “sorry”.
    Last edited by H; 09 Feb 2004 at 3:06 PM.

  21. #21
    Cyburbian ablarc's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by H
    I am for getting rid of ALL aesthetic codes. Let people express themselves and live in a building that fits them as well as their budget.
    Amen to that, H. And not only that, but aesthetics too would be better served if we did that. Aesthetic regulations are the work of ignoramuses.

    They think they can legislate beauty, but they can only legislate conformity. And that, any artist will tell you, is a guarantee that beauty will stay away.

    That is the measure of these control freaks' ignorance.
    Last edited by ablarc; 09 Feb 2004 at 9:06 AM.

  22. #22
    Cyburbian Michele Zone's avatar
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    Zog's Bog

    I thought about starting a new thread titled Zog's Bog but I am terrible at starting threads. So, it seems fortuitous that this thread was revived.

    Someone posted a link in Michaelskis thread about helping his pad. From there, I found an article about a guy living in a tiny apartment in Manhattan. He and his friends did a movie (and indie short) about how he lives in this miniscule apartment and there is a website.

    Here is the article:
    http://www.villagevoice.com/issues/0318/zimmer.php

    And here is the website for Zog's Bog:
    http://zogsplace.com/

  23. #23
    Member Wulf9's avatar
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    [QUOTE=H]Interesting. Little Douglas County wants to become a “high-end” suburb. House size is an interesting means of economic discrimination.


    Those of us who have done historic preservation know that the real economic value of an area is in "history." not in current design. Areas of town turn from desirable to some other economic status in 10-30 years, as they age and new development tugs at the heart and purse strings of people mobile enough to move.

    Very few places can boast that they have maintained high and sustained value for more than 50 years. When they do, it is because they have established themselves as "places to be."

    Many of the McMansions of yore became rooming houses because they were so big. The rich left, and no one with that kind of income wanted to buy the old stuff. So it became economical to break them up into group quarters.

    Size is not always a guarantee of staying "high end."
    Last edited by Wulf9; 09 Feb 2004 at 8:04 PM.

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