McMansions just a symptom of sprawl

Reflecting on a recent case of building a wall along the edge of a suburban property, a Bakersfield, California columnist suggests the wall is a larger symptom of sprawl:

And now we’re a nation of cul-de-sacs and dense residential mazes that, except for the most ambitious among us, are navigable only by automobile. Wonder why the U.S. is the most obese nation on earth? Look no further than a culture that favors cars to walking shoes and cherishes the illusion of privacy over the interactivity of community.

The design of our cities is killing us. We drive a mile to a supermarket that’s just a quarter-mile away as the crow flies. We buy McMansions on the outer edge of the city’s metro footprint and drive 10 miles to work, sending up emissions we needn’t have produced. And we recruit city councilmen to help us block off walking paths near our houses because we’re tired of seeing people actually out and about on our streets.

So many of our societal ills can be traced to a Calle Privada mindset. Half-acre lots with three-car garages on longtime ag land instead of smaller homes closer to work. Municipal tax dollars devoted to new roads, new sewers, new traffic signals and new utility infrastructure instead of public safety and the maintenance of what we already have. And homeowners who barricade their streets instead of developing neighborhood bonds that encourage cooperation, build trust and hinder crime. Cinderblock walls don’t do much to facilitate any of that.

This is an example of what the critique of McMansions is often about. Note that the houses in sprawl themselves don’t get much attention in the argument above. We see that they are on large lots, half an acre, with lots of garage space. But, the bigger issue is what the sprawl in which McMansions are a part. Here are the problems with sprawl, as suggested above:

(1) the infrastructure is costly;

(2) driving is required;

(3) it is bad for the environment;

(4) and it inhibits neighborliness and the development of community.

Those who don’t like sprawl suggest it is a whole system of public investment and choices. Americans may like their large, private houses but there are costs associated with it. Opponents of sprawl tend to assume that if homeowners and policymakers knew these costs, they would make different decisions. That hasn’t exactly happened yet…but the term McMansion is certainly part of the critique of sprawl.

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