Avoiding McMansion sized furniture

With new American homes increasing in size over time, it may be hard to find smaller new furniture:

I need help finding a sofa/sleeper that is not “McMansion sized”…

Have added a TV room on my house & would like to put a sofa/sleeper there so it can be used as overflow guest bedroom space. The stores all seem to sell HUGE sofas. Where do I find a (hopefully full size) sofa/sleeper that will not become “The Elephant In The Room”?

In addition to the larger new homes in the United States, might the larger furniture also be due to the growing size of Americans and the increase in obesity rates?

There must be some room in the market for smaller furniture, particularly if tiny houses or micro apartments are gaining in popularity. I know Macy’s has a small furniture line because we purchased a  bed in this line a few years ago – though the furniture isn’t really small but rather simply isn’t oversized. Here is how Macy’s describes this line:

If you’re desperate for more room around your bed, check out small spaces furniture for bedrooms. The Tahoe set has a headboard that’s full of storage space, or opt for a Hawthorne bed with matching leather storage at the foot of the bed. There’s every style from luxury leather to contemporary wooden and padded beds, ready to be dressed up with a striking duvet set.

Transform your space with a great selection of small spaces furniture at Macy’s.

If Americans must fill their larger spaces, they can go with larger furniture or more furniture. Either could fulfill the consumerist ethos…

A more holistic view of health with sociology, psychology on the MCAT

The new MCAT has sections on sociology and psychology and this has led to new patterns of study:

The test has been thoroughly revamped and is now three hours longer. It takes 7 1/2 hours to complete, including breaks, and covers four new subjects, including a combined section on psychology and sociology that account for a quarter of the overall score.

Test takers will now have to define terms like “institutional racism” and “social constructionism,” and answer applied questions about how race and class affect health…

“Whether or not someone becomes ill has a lot to do with the society in which they live,” says Catherine Lucey, vice dean of education at University of California, San Francisco School of Medicine and a member of the committee that will assess the new MCAT…

How those conditions are treated has also evolved. Doctors know how to treat acute infection now. But managing chronic disease has become a much bigger part of medical care, and doctors need to develop different skills and a different kind of relationship with the patient. Doctors need to build trust, Lucey says, to understand how patients think and make decisions, in order to convince them to exercise more and change their diet.

For those in the comments who think that this is injecting liberal and untrue social science into the practice of medicine, there is plenty of evidence from a variety of fields that medical conditions are not solely dependent on physical traits or conditions. If you want to treat the whole patient, you need some knowledge of the patient’s social and mental well-being.

All that said, it will still be interesting to see whether this affects future doctors. Taking one class in sociology and psychology or looking at study materials on this subject doesn’t necessarily mean the principles will stick if med school programs don’t say much about these topics or knowledge in other areas is more incentivized.

Explaining why four Chicago neighborhoods haven’t had a murder in 3.5 years

Given Chicago’s reputation for violence, why have four Chicago neighborhoods – Mount Greenwood, Edison Park, Forest Glen, and North Park – not had a murder in recent years?

According to census data, 15,228 “law enforcement workers” live in Chicago, including about 12,100 police officers. Mount Greenwood, Edison Park and Forest Glen have some of the highest percentages of residents in the city working in law enforcement.

Crime in general is also low in these communities. For instance, between 2012 and 2014, not a single person was shot in Edison Park, which also reported only one criminal sexual assault. Forest Glen reported two sexual assaults. North Park had just 13 burglaries — which police Supt. Garry McCarthy calls a bellwether crime.

The city’s safest communities also have a high percentage of home ownership…

Another factor that stands out about some of the safest communities is wealth…

People in low-income neighborhoods tend to have a strong sense of community — with families living there for generations and looking out for one another, Papachristos says. But many young men have gravitated over the years toward gangs in those same neighborhoods, he says.

This article reads like a list of reasons for why crime happens in the first place (though at least broken windows theory is not invoked) and social scientists have found a range of reasons that might work in some situations and not others. However, we would suspect that areas that are wealthier have less crime as more people are living comfortably in the formal economy. This doesn’t mean these neighborhoods have no crime; there may be less violent crime but there are still some property crimes and likely crimes that are not caught including drug offenses and white collar crime (these might be even harder to uncover in wealthier areas).

If we follow the logic of this article, we would want to move high-crime areas toward the experiences of wealthier, higher quality of life neighborhoods that do exist in Chicago. Who is willing to take the steps to help this happen?

Whites are the ones who want to live away from blacks, not the other way around

Here is a reminder of how whites and blacks view diversity in their neighborhoods differently:

This notion is a popular one: that people like to live among their own. But it’s highly misleading, because research has shown that it is far more true for white Americans than for black Americans. Here’s what a 2009 study by the University of Illinois at Chicago sociologist Maria Krysan and other scholars, published in the American Journal of Sociology, found: Given a choice of all-white, 60 percent white and 40 percent black, or all-black, “whites said the all-white neighborhoods were most desirable. The independent effect of racial composition was smaller among blacks and blacks identified the racially mixed neighborhood as most desirable,”along with all-black neighborhoods.

And it isn’t so much that whites want to live among “people who are similar to them,” Krysan and her co-authors write, but rather that “anti-black feelings [are] driving whites’ residential preferences.”

Other studies, the authors note, have found that whites are not comfortable with more than 20 percent of their neighbors being black, while blacks prefer a 50-50 split and don’t particularly prefer either all-white or all-black neighborhoods. Importantly, black people’s aversion to all-white neighborhoods is rooted not in a desire to live exclusively among blacks, but rather derives from the fear of discrimination in all-white neighborhoods.

“It is misleading, I think, to use the word ‘voluntary choices’ given what underlies the preferences of African Americans in particular to not be the ‘pioneer’ or one of just a few blacks in a neighborhood/community,” emails Krysan. “A number of different studies (my own and others)… demonstrate that the desire for more diverse neighborhoods is driven importantly by concerns about discrimination in neighborhoods that are overwhelmingly white. I would not call that a truly ‘voluntary’ choice, given that it is inextricably tied up with past and present circumstances of racial violence and discrimination towards blacks who move into neighborhoods that are all or very predominately white.”

So much for free choice in where people can live; the system still includes discrimination (whether perceived or real doesn’t really matter) as well as economic barriers (many white neighborhoods have higher price points). White Americans would tend to claim that it isn’t about race or ethnicity at all and that it is about economics and quality of life (a shift that took place starting in the 1960s as race-based arguments became illegal and less accepted in public) yet we still have persistent residential segregation.

Opponent of teardown McMansions switches sides

One owner of an older suburban home says she can see the benefits of a teardown McMansion:

I would have taken Huetinck’s explanation personally several months ago, when I used to sigh as I walked by these construction sites that were seemingly engulfing us. But now that our kids are getting older and our space feels tighter, I can see the benefits of these “shiny and new” homes.

Although my husband and I like taking our two toddlers on walks to the farmers market at Bethesda Elementary School on the weekends and for strolls to the playground around the corner, I’ve found myself growing increasingly frustrated trying to navigate our living room without stepping on a toy, cramming clothes into closets that seem to grow smaller by the day, and making do with no garage. As much as I hate to say it, I’m starting to lose my allegiance to these older homes.

That’s not because I want to see our neighborhood turn into a cookie-cutter development, but it’s because I see the ease that something as simple as a mudroom can provide, especially with kids and a dog…

But the allure of a mammoth open kitchen, a two-car garage and a walk-in closet in the master bedroom is hard to ignore.

These sterile, user-friendly McMansions are looking better to me every day. Unlike our friend and neighbor Marjorie, I think we could come up with a price.

I would be interested to hear about what kind of interactions this writer/resident has with her neighbors after writing this piece in the Washington Post. It sounds like the neighbors have taken sides, pitting those who have lived a long time in the neighborhood and what to see it preserved or stay the same versus those who either want or need to sell and like the higher prices they can now get or those who can see the usefulness of a newer home.

Could a teardown McMansion may more defensible if the owner has a larger family? Although more American households than ever are single members, families with children might want more space to spread out. Yet, I imagine at least a few of those opposed to McMansions might also be opposed to overpopulation…

Finally, are there any teardown owners who stay in the same neighborhood? Or, is the act of buying a teardown so disruptive that one can’t remain a neighbor in good standing if they are the one bringing the disruption?


AP gives five solutions to nation’s growing traffic problems

The Associated Press discusses five ways to reduce traffic in America. Here are the quick summaries of each:






Perhaps we will have a situation where each of these options will be tried out in different places. For example, some cities will pursue mass transit – which can be quite expensive in already expensive areas – while others will simply add tolls to existing highways.

But, if I had to guess which options will prevail, I would guess numbers three through five which do not require people to give up their cars or the distance they commute to work and other places. (Some will voluntarily go for denser housing in more urbanized areas but others will interpret this as the government trying to force people out of suburban or rural living.) The first two require a lot of political will, either to spend the money for mass transit or to get people to pay new money for things they didn’t pay for before. Of course, the new technology won’t come cheap – it will be built into car costs in the future – but still appears to give the individual owners more options. Plus, American society tends to have quite a bit of faith in science and progress to solve problems.

Continuing to see Illinois highways as growth and job generators

The selection of a new executive director of the Illinois Tollway suggests the agency wants to continue to push growth:

Greg Bedalov, president and CEO of Choose DuPage, an economic development organization, will take over as executive director at the agency, officials said…

Rauner’s pick for Chairman Bob Schillerstrom told the Daily Herald that economic growth and job creation go hand-in-hand with the tollway.

It’s expected Bedalov will reflect that philosophy as the tollway heads into the third year of a massive $12 billion road building program…

In a 2012 op-ed piece for the Daily Herald, Bedalov talked about communities collaborating in the region instead of competing to create jobs.

“It is critical that local and county economic development agencies work collaboratively with state and federal agencies to uncover additional opportunities for economic wins,” he wrote.

This sounds like a growth machine approach to building tollways: providing increased capacity for vehicles will lead to new economic opportunities for businesses who want access to such transportation options, workers who can reach jobs more quickly, and developers who can develop and build nearby. The argument here is that this can be good for the entire region as the benefits of improved or new tollways would extend across communities.

Quickly, some possible objections:

1. It is really difficult to build new tollways in a region that is already largely developed. It is costly (acquiring land, environmental studies, increasing construction costs) and takes a lot of time.

2. Adding highway capacity just increases traffic: people see more available roads and drive on them. Why not put some of this transportation money into mass-transit and denser developments that could benefit from an economy of scale?

3. Who really benefits from such construction? The firms getting the contracts and the developers? How exactly do the benefits trickle down to the average resident?

The American rental market continues to get more expensive

A report shows the rental market continued to tighten in the United States in recent years:

And it’s probably getting rougher. “Rental markets tightened again in 2014 as the national vacancy rate fell by nearly a full percentage point to 7.6 percent—its lowest point in two decades,” Harvard’s researchers tell us. Meanwhile, rents rose at twice the rate of inflation, and faster than wages. However bad 2013 was when it comes to the country’s collective rent burden, it seems likely last year will look worse when the final numbers are in.

Rents are rising for the simple reason that, thanks to the never-ending hangover of the housing bust, a larger share of Americans are renting their living places now than they have in 20 years. And while developers have responded by building apartment buildings like mad—last year, there were the most multifamily housing starts for rent since 1987—it hasn’t quite been enough to keep up with demand. (Moreover, new construction is largely catering to wealthier buyers, while the families most burdened by rent tend to be lower-income.) Old, unwanted single-family homes from the boom days of the 1990s and early 2000s are relieving some of the pressure on the market, but not quite enough to keep prices from jumping.

Meanwhile, demand for rentals is probably going to keep rising. First, the Federal Reserve would really, really like to raise interest rates in the near future, which will make mortgages less affordable. But more importantly, millennials are getting older. Thus far, most of the growth in renting has been driven by middle-aged and older Americans. But even if young adults continue living with their parents at the same rate as today, there are simply so many twenty- and thirtysomethings that the rate of new household formation is bound to jump in the coming years, which is going to create much more appetite for rentals.

If expensive renting becomes the new normal, it would have widespread effects. Spending more money on rent means that people have less money to spend elsewhere, a problem in an economy driven by consumer spending. It could change how Americans view renters, which has negative connotations in a lot of wealthier suburban communities. Developers could continue to pursue different building options if they see a lot of money in multifamily housing. Lower-class residents may have a harder and harder time finding affordable housing, already a problem in many major housing markets. Denser development could shift ideas about homeownership and suburban life.

All that said, it remains to be seen whether this an economic stage or blip or whether the housing market will turn away from rental units and back toward single-family homes. Housing prices may be close to their 2006 peak but clearly fewer homes are being built and demand is down.



Use Airbnb to try a neighborhood before you buy a home

The neighborhood is an important part of purchasing a new home so I’m surprised it has taken so long to get to a solution like this: use Airbnb to try out the neighborhood before you buy.

Realtor.com and Airbnb have teamed up to show visitors to the realty website what Airbnb rentals are near properties listed for sale, so potential buyers can test-drive a neighborhood.

“This collaboration with Airbnb reinforces our commitment to giving consumers unparalleled insight to make informed real estate decisions,” Ryan O’Hara, chief executive officer of Realtor.com, said in a statement Wednesday. “Our relationship with Airbnb … allows us to reduce some of the unknown factors associated with relocating to a new community.”

I wonder how many people will take advantage of this. Even though Airbnb might make it easier to try the neighborhood yourself, it still requires the effort of signing up, actually staying, and then looking around and/or talking to people. And if you are going to go to the trouble to walk around and talk to people, do you actually need to stay the night? Remember, many neighborhood members may just be trying to avoid each other (examples here and here).

Perhaps the next step in all of this is to find a way for people to stay at the prospective home itself before they buy. Perhaps you could get two days and one night to stay there but have to put down a hefty fee. This may not work if the homeowners are still living there but it would offer an unparalleled look at a major purchase.

Applying Weber’s concept of disenchantment to Jurassic World

A journalist suggests Weber’s “disenchantment” could explain a world where scientists create new dinosaurs:

Yet the Indominus Rex’s business necessity is itself born of a spiritual void arguably endemic to capitalism itself. If “Jurassic Park” owes its ancestry to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, there’s a straight line between “Jurassic World” and Max Weber, the early 20th century German thinker whose celebrated 1917 lecture “Science As A Vocation” is one of the source texts for an important sociological concept known as “disenchantment.”

“Disenchantment” is the process through which empiricism replaces mysticism as an organising and motivating principle for both individuals and society at large. For Weber, the rise of capitalism meant that the rigors of daily existence started to find meaning through earthly and numerable concerns, rather than through one’s relation to an ineffable metaphysical power. In a sense, disenchantment is shorthand for the victory of the market over religion…

This is the movie about the moral, spiritual, and economic crisis of boredom at a dinosaur park. The crisis is not as far-fetched as it seems. We’re in the era where the Lourve, repository of the some of the world’s most sublime artistic accomplishments, isn’t immune from the selfie stick plague. There are now classes dedicated to taking Instagram photos of food. Look at all these people with their smart-phones out as Nationals pitching demigod Max Scherzer closed in on a (tragically blown) perfect game on June 20th. Layers of distraction and disenchantment separate people from even the rarest and most spectacular of events, even when they’re unfolding directly in front of them…

The movie is a kind of sly meta-joke about the traditional entertainment industry’s finely-honed ability to shovel as much brand identification and fan service down audiences’ throats as is humanly possible. The Indominus Rex — really just a larger, more violent version of “Jurassic Park’s” T-Rex — embodies the soul-deadening, almost self-destructive character of an industry whose primary commercial readout seems to be monstrous retreads. It’s a movie about the movies’ failure to impress audiences, and those audience’s enduring inability to be impressed by anything that’s genuinely new.

And that is why we continue to read and teach Max Weber in sociology courses from the introductory level to graduate school. If this was the subject of an end-of-the-semester research paper in a theory course, it could end up being pretty good. As noted here, Weber saw some of the benefits of capitalism and modernity but was pretty prescient regarding its consequences. Even critiques of the system – such as this film which highlights the downsides of science and progress – still have to play by the same rules, meaning that it has to sell to the mass public to be considered a “success.”