When a suburb dismantles a plane in a homeowner’s driveway

You don’t see too many airplanes parked on the typical suburban street but this incident in New York may serve as a warning to those interested in just that:

A 70-year-old Long Island man who allegedly ignored 17 summonses calling for him to remove a plane parked in his driveway threatened to use a crossbow on town officials who dismantled it.

Crews spent most of the day Thursday disassembling the single-engine Cessna parked outside Harold Guretzky’s home in Oceanside, ending a 1½-year saga that pitted Guretzky against his neighbors and the town…

Town officials said housing the aircraft in Guretzky’s driveway violates building safety codes…

Last year, Guretzky likened it to parking a boat in a driveway and has said he didn’t have money to house the plane in a hangar. Some neighbors, however, said there’s no comparison.

What a production that included local officials giving a press conference in front of the plane in the driveway of street of raised ranch homes. The main reason given for removing the plane was safety but no one said exactly why it was a safety hazard. The owner compares it to a boat and the safety issues there could be similar: large gas tanks just sitting there. Presumably, he is not going to try to take off on the suburban street (though wide streets of many recent suburbs would help avoid clipping mailboxes).

My guess is that this is more of an eyesore/property values issue. For similar reasons, communities may not allow RVs or work trucks to be in driveways. Is a plane that is rarely used really more of a safety hazard than a large truck? However, it does look unusual (particularly with the wings spread out) and probably draws the ire of some neighbors who are worried about potential homebuyers or outsiders getting the wrong idea about the block.

One solution is for Guretzky to find a suburban airplane subdivision. They do exist: see the example of Aero Estates in NapervilleAero Estates in Naperville.

CHA takes care of its own finances, waiting list grows

The Chicago Housing Authority doesn’t exactly have a distinguished history in serving those that need housing and that trend appears to be continuing:

While tens of thousands of families languished on a waiting list for assistance, the Chicago Housing Authority paid off practically all of its debt and overfunded its pension plan, according to a report released Friday by the bipartisan Center for Tax and Budget Accountability.

The agency also socked away hundreds of millions of dollars in cash reserves even as its ambitious plan to replace thousands of demolished public housing units lagged years behind schedule…

By the end of 2016, the waiting list for housing assistance stood at more than 119,000 households…

Originally, the [Plan for Transformation] was supposed to be completed in 2009, but by then the CHA had delivered just 71 percent of the promised units. The goal was eventually pushed back to 2015. By the end of that year, however, more than 2,000 units still hadn’t been built, the report found. The plan is now expected to be completed by the end of this year.

As the article notes, this is an interesting contrast to many other governments and taxing bodies in Illinois that are struggling to meet their budgets and fund their pensions. But, the trade off here repeats a pattern that the CHA has followed for decades: it doesn’t actually provide enough housing for the needs of city residents.

Once the public housing high rises were torn down (such as the Cabrini-Green towers coming down several years ago), the topic of public housing has not received much attention from the media or the public. However, why don’t we hear more about the slowed Plan for Transformation? What about the growing waiting list (it is not a new problem)? Ultimately, have the efforts since the early 2000s actually improved the housing situation in Chicago or simply moved the problems around (and out of the public view)?

I know there is a lot of concern about the lack of trust the public has in government institutions. From my perspective, a lack of trust in the CHA is entirely warranted (it may never have been warranted given its checkered history) and it would take a lot to reverse this.

Defining a McMansion, Trait #3: Architecture and design

When I tell people that I have published about McMansions, the same question almost always arises: “What exactly is a McMansion?” My paper defining the McMansion answers this but in a series of posts here, I want to update the definition based on what I have seen in the last five years.
The size of the McMansion – whether absolute or relative – is important but not all large houses are McMansions. Another key trait is the architecture and design of the home. At the least, McMansions are considered to have a mish-mash of architectural styles, an architectural incongruence where the individual pieces don’t seem to go together. One guide to American houses described this as an eclectic style. More negatively, this may be described as garish or buffonish or unrefined. The particular design may have a purpose – to impress viewers – but the architectural purity is dubious or just plain wrong.
The recent Tumblr McMansionHell has great visuals explaining the architectural difficulties McMansions pose. I won’t repeat what is there (see a 2014 post about possibly the ugliest new build McMansion) but considering the design of McMansions leads me to several different areas of thought:
1. If McMansions are not acceptable architecture, what exactly is? American homes display a variety of styles involving historical periods as well as regional designs. (See some of these on one handy poster.) Of course, one of the oddities of McMansion designs is that they tend to colonize both older and regional designs into some new combination. Take, as one example, the ranch home of the postwar era. Are such homes beautiful or functional? Are they the result of mass production processes after World War Two? And yet, with the passage of time, some now find them worth celebrating and preserving.
2. Many Americans may not mind the architecture and design of McMansions. This could be for multiple reasons: Americans prefer other features of homes (such as their size or their location) over the architecture; Americans aren’t well educated in architecture (where exactly is this subject taught?); Americans don’t mind novelty and bricolage. As one Australian architect suggested, perhaps more residents would reject McMansions if their architectural awareness increased.
3. For good reason, including that it is easy to view from the street (whether from passing vehicles or Google Street View), the exterior (particularly the facade) of McMansions gets a lot of attention. Yet, the interior is a bit neglected. I’ve asked in earlier posts whether a home could be not bad by exterior McMansion standards but the interior is McMansion-like (see here and here).
4. I’m fairly convinced that if given a choice between modernist homes (a favorite of some architects and designers) and McMansions, more Americans would choose the McMansion. See earlier posts here and here.
5. I would guess that much of the architectural critique of McMansions is related to education levels. People with more money tend to live in nicer places regardless but think about the stereotypical image of who lives in McMansions or who you have seen or heard criticize McMansions. Additionally, if architects criticize McMansions, are they doing so partly due to self interest? A relatively small percent of American homes are designed by architects and criticizing bad designs could lead to more business.
6. Finally, I’m still waiting to find the builders and architects who would admit to designing and constructing McMansions. There are a variety of ways to get around the term (think “executive home” or “estate homes“) even if the architecture and design of the home clearly signals a McMansion.

Avoid public wi-fi

Here is a helpful reminder:

And finally, don’t forget for one minute that public Wi-Fi is dangerous.

This one illustration is humorous:

Evan, now 11, programmed fake Wi-Fi portals and took them to food courts shopping centers across the Austin, Texas, area and waited to see how many agreed to some pretty outrageous conditions. For the love of free internet access, they’d have to give their OK for the Wi-Fi owner to do things like “reading and responding to your emails, monitoring of input and/or output, and ‘bricking’ of your device.”

More than half of the shoppers shown these terms accepted them.

I like that this the article ties this issue to shopping malls. This might primarily be due to this time of year when plenty of people are out purchasing gifts. However, it also works because shopping malls are about as close as we get as Americans to public spaces. Where else can you regularly go for a safe environment to be around other people to do one of the ultimate American activities (consume)? While this article reminds us that the mall may not be so safe, is it odd that Americans tend to think of it as a safe place? And if malls want to keep attracting people (who then spend money), shouldn’t they do something about protecting their wi-fi?

I see an opportunity for either malls or security firms: ensuring that your public wi-fi experience is a good one.

Los Angeles continues to tweak McMansion regulations

The work continues in Los Angeles about how to best address McMansions:

The City Council this week voted 13-0 to rewrite two ordinances governing the size of new houses in single-family neighborhoods and on hillsides, the Los Angeles Times reported:

“One mansionization measure backed by the council would reduce the square footage allowed for houses in R-1 zones — areas where only single-family homes are permitted — to 45% of the overall lot size, down from 50%. The council also moved to eliminate provisions that have allowed homebuilders to obtain additional square footage for their projects.

For example, developers have had the right to go 20% bigger when they showed they followed environmentally friendly design standards. That would disappear under the council’s plan.”

This isn’t the first time the city has taken on the issue. The first mansionization ordinances passed in 2008. But homeowners and others argued that the law didn’t go far enough to protect neighborhoods, and McMansions are still invading historic neighborhoods.

This highlights how regulating McMansions is not a one-time deal. In this case, the city already had regulations on the books. But, with enough pressure from residents, two changes were made to limit the size of new homes (through two different means). Presumably, these regulations could change even further as residents and builders see how things go over the next few years. It is harder to imagine the McMansions guidelines would allow for larger homes but builders, developers, and residents interested in such homes also could exert influence.

This may also serve as a reminder about the difficulty of crafting city-wide ordinances when different neighborhoods (and residents) might have different concerns about McMansions. In other words, what works in one neighborhood may not work in another. I could understand why local governments wouldn’t want to create a patchwork of regulations but it would be interesting to know how many residents and neighborhoods are driving these regulations.

The suburban mall of today is an entertainment center

Stores alone are not enough to attract people to malls; they are now full of additional entertainment options including restaurants and movie theaters.

“The traditional mall with four department stores as their primary traffic driver is no longer the best model,” said Joe Parrott, a senior vice president with the Chicago offices of CBRE, a commercial real estate company…

“A lot of these big entertainment players are coming,” Parrott said. “And the malls are interested in bringing tenants that are more experiential and broaden the appeal of the mall beyond just department stores.”…

Stratford Square Mall in Bloomingdale is a perfect example of the changing dynamic. The mall is launching a multimillion-dollar renovation and tenant improvement project that features both interior and exterior improvements at the 1.3 million-square-foot center. It’s a continuation of an earlier renovation that included the 2014 opening of Round One, a 40,000-square-foot entertainment center that features bowling, billiards, numerous video games and karaoke…

Experts with California-based Green Street Advisors have predicted that 15 percent of malls nationwide will close or be repurposed over the next decade. But that doesn’t apply to successful malls listed in the “A” and “B” category.

On one hand, the major changes in retail – big box stores, online shopping – mean malls have to adjust as do a lack of public spaces in many suburbs – which can be approximated by private entertainment spaces at the mall.

One expert cited in this article says, “Bad malls disappear.” Within the next decade or two, we might expect to see fewer shopping areas in the suburbs overall but the ones that do survive becoming behemoths. This could have some interesting consequences for communities that are home to these entertainment complexes as well as for those who lost out on the chance to have a mall decades ago.

Chicago suburbs largely go for Clinton

Bucking historical trends, all but McHenry County in the Chicago suburbs went for Hillary Clinton.

The Democratic Party of DuPage got a sudden influx of young foot soldiers, like organizer Alex Franklin, who campaigned for charismatic Democrat Bernie Sanders until the Vermont senator conceded to Clinton in July, then went to work for Clinton. Clinton won DuPage County by 14 percentage points on Tuesday.

“If you look at the holes right now, even where Democrats lost in DuPage there were absurdly high numbers, which are a direct result of the Sanders people and what we were doing out here,” said Franklin, of Glen Ellyn. He sees the merger of Clinton and Sanders supporters as the beginning of a beautiful friendship that will spill over into spring municipal elections…

This year, support for local candidates by minorities down ballot helped Clinton at the top of the ticket, experts said…

Shunning the New York billionaire might have cost Illinois Republicans down ballot, said Mark Fratella, a Trump delegate and Addison Township GOP organizer.

A variety of explanations. Yet, one is ignored here: the Chicago suburbs have experienced a lot of demographic change in recent decades: more non-white residents, more immigrants moving directly to the suburbs (rather than to neighborhoods of Chicago first), more lower and working-class residents. In other words, the images of Lake County and the North Shore or DuPage County as looking like Lake Forest, Highland Park, Hinsdale, Elmhurst, and Wheaton (all white and wealthy) simply do not hold.

A great graphic shows the change over time in recent elections:

Elections since 1960

The trends are clearly away from Republicans in the collar counties.

See earlier posts about presidential candidates fighting over the suburban vote here and here.