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.

Explaining white evangelicals: American Evangelicalism, Embattled and Thriving

With all the talk of white evangelicals in the postmortem of the 2016 election, it is useful to return to a 1998 sociological book about this group: Christian Smith’s American Evangelicalism: Embattled and Thriving. Here is one way we can understand white evangelicals from a sociological perspective:

1. Smith adopts the subcultural theory to explain the group’s success and current standing. This has two dimensions:

“The subcultural identity theory of religious persistence is this: Religion survives and can thrive in pluralistic, modern society by embedding itself in subcultures that offer satisfying morally orienting collective identities which provide adherents meaning and belonging.” (118)

“And the subcultural identity theory of religious strength is this: In a pluralistic society, those religious groups will be relatively stronger which better possess and employ the cultural tools needed to create both clear distinction from and significant engagement and tension with other relevant outgroups, short of becoming genuinely countercultural.” (118-119)

In this perspective, pluralism can actually help religious groups by fostering a sense of shared identity compared to the broader society and also providing opportunities for engagement with others.

2. The vitality of the group often depends on drawing strong distinctions between the group and the outside world.

“The evangelical tradition’s entire history, theology, and self-identity presupposes and reflects strong cultural boundaries with nonevangelicals; a zealous burden to convert and transform the world outside of itself; and a keen perception of external threats and crises seen as menacing what it views to be true, good, and valuable.” (121)

3. Evangelicals want to engage social issues but are ultimately limited in what they can accomplish because of their approach.

“the only truly effective way to change the world is one-individual-at-a-time through the influence of interpersonal relationships.”(187)

“they routinely offer one-dimensional analyses and solutions for multidimensional social issues and problems.” (189)

4. When it comes to political action, evangelicals support government intervention in some areas (like abortion, gay rights, and prayer in schools) but not in other areas. This leads to an unresolvable tension.

“By this we mean, in short, that many evangelicals think that Christian morality should be the primary authority for American culture and society and simultaneously think that everyone should be free to live as they see fit, even if that means rejecting Christianity.” (210)

5. Thus, the problems with evangelicalism come from within.

“Evangelicalism’s problems, in other words, are largely subculturally indigenous, difficulties of their own tradition’s making.”(217)

While the data for this book came from the culture wars era (comprehensive surveys and interviews conducted in the mid 1990s with ordinary evangelicals), a lot of this still rings true today.

A follow-up post tomorrow will contrast Smith’s understanding (as well as other sociological emphases) compared to how white evangelicals understand themselves.

Both parties treat the President as too powerful and important

One of my takeaways from the long 2016 election season: both political parties put too much effort into electing a President who only has limited powers. The President is certainly an important symbol and they have a bully pulpit – and both parties in recent decades seem to be interested in increased executive powers, even if they want to exercise those powers in different areas – but they are only one part of the government. Voting for the right President is not a do or die affair: it is great for the media (and while they may not have liked Trump, they liked the attention he drew and the controversy around him) and perhaps more interesting to the public but I’m skeptical that a single good or bad leader can make all the difference.

I’d rather we view the American government as a complex system. Certain actors, like the President, may be more visible or powerful than others but they can rarely act unilaterally.

A zoning paradox: sacred residential spaces are dependent on their market values

The last page of Sonia Hirt’s book Zoned in the USA lays out a key paradox in the American zoning system:

Isn’t it ironic that American residential space is so sacredly residential (so protected from intrusion through land-use law, that is) only because it is so commercial (because it is an object of trade rather than an object of our sentiments)?

Perhaps this another piece of evidence that single-family homes are one of the biggest objects of American consumption as well as key pieces in the American economic system.

The origins of Chicago’s residents-only parking

An article on rethinking Chicago’s residential parking permits system reveals how it all started in the first place:

The first residents-only parking signs were put up in 1979 to protect North Side bungalow-belt homeowners who were tired of fighting Northeastern Illinois University students for spaces. Since then they’ve proliferated across the city, with 1,466 zones currently on the books. Aldermen often don’t want to say no to residents who ask for a parking zone, fearing the political backlash.

Two quick thoughts:

  1. It is not surprising that such a program might spread. What was intended for one particular problem suddenly appeared appealing to all sorts of people and before you know it, permits were applied everywhere. This is a good example of the ease of creating such regulations – they spread really quickly – but the difficulty of putting the cat back into the bag when such regulations become normal and institutionalized.
  2. Chicago is often touted as a city of neighborhoods but what this means is that a lot of people are able to keep cars as the neighborhoods have plenty of lower density residences as well as single-family homes. The underlying issue here isn’t necessarily whether there are permits or not; rather, how do encourage people to have fewer cars? Is this even possible in a city that wants people to be able to own detached homes?