Advantageously framing a teardown McMansions debate

A story on Burbank, California residents opposing teardown McMansions illustrates one way to frame the debate:

Put a six bedroom, five bath, mansion, next to a 1940’s three bed, one bath.  Sound a little mismatched?

A group of Burbank residents think so, and they’re urging Burbank officials to regulate “McMansions” from defacing the character of their neighborhoods…

Her dutch colonial home has been carefully remodeled to stay in line with the character of the neighborhood.

Right across the street from her, a historic house was demolished, oak trees were uprooted, all to make way for three huge six bedroom mansions, two sit empty for months at a time and are up for rent.

Here is what is emphasized in this framing: the lives of long-time residents of an established neighborhood are being disturbed by outsiders constructing big homes that serve their personal interests rather than those of the community. Modest homes next to gargantuan homes. A quaint neighborhood character versus a super-sized, garish character. This is a common rhetorical technique utilized by those opposed to teardown McMansions. (This argument may also include financial pitches as older residents have a hard time keeping up with increased property taxes.)

The counterarguments can include:

(1) Individual property owners should be able to do what they want with their property. This includes the rights of current property owners to cash out on their once-modest homes and for new owners to be able to use their resources to build the kind of home they desire.

(2) Neighborhoods are going to change over time. Suburban residents can be guilty of trying to “freeze” their neighborhoods in time, preserving the features they liked when they moved in. (This isn’t just limited to teardown situations. See NIMBY.) However, this limits the “natural” change that might take place in neighborhoods as new residents move in and social conditions change.

Even this article mainly provides the viewpoint of those opposed to McMansions, it also hints at the common divide in teardown discussions: the rights of owners in a neighborhood to preserve what is there versus the rights of individuals and outsiders to change features of the neighborhood. However, this framing as presented here can be quite effective as it suggests outsiders threaten good neighborhoods.

See an earlier post on Burbank and McMansions here.

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