“We must kill the McMansion!”

Henry Grabar argues Americans should focus on getting rid of the embarrassing McMansion:

This surfeit of space is a potent symbol of the American way of life; it speaks to our priorities, our prosperity and our tendency to take more than we need. But the superlative size of our houses isn’t just a foam finger America can hold up to the world. It’s correlated with land use patterns and population density, which in turn determine the environmental impact and personal health of communities, and whether they can support a diverse range of businesses, facilities and transportation choices. It’s no coincidence that a modern American suburb like Weston, Florida, has just one-third the population density of Levittown…

But American homes dwarf those in nearly every other country on Earth. Our new houses are twice the size of those in Germany, and you could fit three new U.K. houses inside one of ours. (For what it’s worth, the houses in the U.K. are rather cramped.) Even in spacious Canada, our neighbors are building homes three-quarters the size of their U.S. equivalents. Only Australia, which has the lowest population density in the world after Mongolia and Namibia, can rival the U.S.A. for big houses.

As it turns out, though, the U.S. housing puzzle is more complex than many critics perceive. For the past few decades, single-family homes have dominated new construction. During most of the early-aughts housing boom, too, more than four of five new units were single-family homes. But that huge discrepancy has been vanquished by a surge in apartment construction. These days, the rate of new starts in multi-family buildings has been hovering, nationwide, near 40 percent — a level not seen in decades…

That raises a number of questions. Are these new residents trading the space of suburbia for the vibrancy of a city? Are they downsizing their living quarters to spend money on other things? Or can they simply not afford to rent a bigger apartment or purchase a house?

Provocative headlines involving McMansions are popular these days – “Kill the McMansions” is a pretty strong statement. Yet, the article doesn’t talk as much about the negative impacts of McMansions. The gist of the article goes more this direction: even as new American homes have grown larger in recent years, apartment construction is up, and it is unclear what direction housing will trend in the coming years. Answering this open question could go a long way in determining not just what the American landscape looks like in coming decades but, more importantly, what underlies American social life.

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