It cannot be a McMansion if it is valued at over $30 million and has mansion features

Actor Chris Hemsworth has turned a big home into an even bigger and more luxurious home in recent years. Is it a McMansion?

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After buying his Byron Bay family home for $7million back in 2014, Chris, 37, transformed the sprawling property into a compound that has been valued at between $30million and $60million.

The actor carried out extensive renovations on the six-bedroom home, and it now boasts a steam room, gym, media room and games room.

There’s also a stunning outdoor living area, play areas for his three young kids and a 50-metre rooftop infinity pool, which overlooks the ocean…

Angry neighbours were quick to say the rebuild reminded them of a suburban shopping centre, a refurbished RSL club or a regional airport terminal.

Others compared the home, which sits on 4.2 hectares, to a multi-storey car park and a ‘McMansion’.

While there is no mention of the square footage of the home, this description suggests this home is a mansion. Here are several reasons why: it likely has more space that a spacious McMansion (imagine 3,000-6,000 square feet there); it is not a mass-produced, cookie cutter home; it has numerous luxury features; it is not owned or renovated by a regular wealthy person but rather a global film star.

So why would a neighbor call it a McMansion instead of a mansion? I would guess that this was done to link the home to a pejorative term and to critique the architectural style of the home. A “mansion” could still be critiqued but the negative connotations are implied in McMansion. The other descriptions by neighbors have to do with the architectural style of the home, whether they are viewed as ugly or not consistent with the surroundings.

Is there a lesson in this? Here is one option: to fight the big home in the neighborhood, call it a McMansion. Label it a mansion and it might just justify the size, features, and architecture.

The reasons there are no bridges over the Amazon River

Even though the Amazon River is over 4,000 miles long, there are good reasons why there are no bridges spanning it:

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The Amazon, for much of its 4,300-mile (6,920 kilometers) length, meanders through areas that are sparsely populated, meaning there are very few major roads for any bridge to connect to. And in the cities and towns that border the river, boats and ferries are an established means of moving goods and people from bank to bank, meaning there is no real need for bridges to be built, other than to make trips slightly quicker…

For example, its extensive marshes and soft soils would necessitate “very long access viaducts [a multi-span bridge crossing extended lower areas] and very deep foundations,” and this would require hefty financial investment, Kaufmann said. Additionally, the changing positions of the river’s course across the seasons, with “pronounced differences” in water depth, would make construction “extremely demanding.” This is due, in part, to the river’s water level rising and falling throughout the year and the soft sediment of the riverbanks eroding and shifting seasonally, according to the Amazon Waters initiative (opens in new tab)

Pontoons, or floating structures, are not a solution that would work in most parts of the Amazon, Kaufmann said, because the river is hugely impacted by seasonal variances, which adds an additional layer of complexity. For instance, during the dry season — between June and November — the Amazon averages a width of between 2 and 6 miles (3.2 and 9.7 km), while in the wet season — December through April — the river can be as wide as 30 miles (48 km), and the water level can be 50 feet (15 meters) higher than it is during the dry season, according to Britannica (opens in new tab)

“I think a bridge would only be built if the need dominates over the difficulties and cost,” Kaufmann said. “Personally, I doubt that this will happen soon, unless there are unforeseen economic developments in the region.”

These are significant challenges, including engineering concerns and the lack of economic justification. Money always matters in big infrastructure projects as the costs can add up and the current system can be deemed okay and more cost-efficient.

So how might this change? I can imagine two scenarios:

  1. A leader, political or otherwise, wants to make a big splash and attach their name to a significant civic project. Government officials often like this as infrastructure lasts a long time and is viewed as furthering the public good. Additionally, attaching their name to a significant structure means they can be recognized longer.
  2. An architect or engineer or related firm wants to make a big splash. Perhaps the bridge is a unique design for the particular environmental conditions or perhaps it is especially green, particularly if there are fears that a bridge would negatively impact the environment.

In either case, to be part of the first bridge over the Amazon would be a notable achievement.

Nextdoor as a kinder, community oriented social media platform and still looking to make money

Nextdoor wants to offer more positive content but is also trying to figure out how to increase profits:

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“We actually have data that shows that in the short run, toxic content absolutely drives more engagement,” Nextdoor Chief Executive Officer Sarah Friar said in a recent interview. “But over a six month period, it drives down overall engagement.”

It explains why the company chose the ticker KIND when it went public on the New York Stock Exchange last year. Nextdoor wants to distinguish itself from social media peers like Twitter Inc. and Meta Platforms Inc.’s Facebook as a friendly, down-to-earth platform that fosters connections between real neighbors, not anonymous trolls and scammy bots. There’s also local utility: Users can find a couch to buy, a plumber to fix a leak or a barbecue to attend…

The strategy has not translated into profitability for Nextdoor, which reported a loss in 2021 on revenue of $192.2 million, almost all of it from advertising. Friar says the company is in “investment mode” with plans to expand abroad in the UK, Germany, France, Canada, Denmark and Australia. It’s ramping up marketing and trying to figure out a way to capture more small businesses beyond the 30,000 that currently advertise on the platform. The company is focused on the hyperlocal, but large national advertisers are still how it makes most of its money.

But Nextdoor is competing for those accounts with advertising behemoths, and its users are still older and whiter than other social media networks, according to a survey by the Pew Research Center. Its $51 million in first quarter revenue is a 48% year-over-year jump, but a blip compared to advertising giants like Meta and Twitter, which posted revenues of $27.9 billion and $1.2 billion, respectively. Frontdoor Inc., a platform for home services and repairs, and Yelp Inc., both eclipsed $250 million for the quarter. Unlike Nextdoor, all of them have been profitable. 

This description of the platform raises multiple questions. Here are a few in my mind:

  1. Is profitability in the social media space now inextricably tied to anger and provocative content?
  2. Platforms offer different affordances, features for users and groups to utilize. How much can these features specific to different platforms tame negative content and behavior or is this a problem endemic to social media or society at large?
  3. Can a social media platform be more of a public service than a profitable private company?
  4. Once a social media platform has an established base – other parts of the article discuss Nextdoor’s appeal to suburbanites interested in crime and safety – can it actually change audiences and purposes?
  5. What happens if Nextdoor is acquired by another tech or media company?

As a Nextdoor member, I will keep my eye on this.

New “Unvarnished” exhibit on Naperville’s exclusionary past

A new project from Naper Settlement shows how Naperville – and several other communities – excluded people for decades:

https://www.unvarnishedhistory.org/local-spotlights/naperville-illinois/

For more than 80 years, Naperville was a sundown town. After working in a household, farm or factory during the day, people of color had to be gone from Naperville by sundown…

A historical look at how diversity in the city and five other U.S. towns grew despite decades historic discriminatory practices and segregation is featured in a free online exhibit spearheaded by Naper Settlement and the Historical Society of Naperville.

“Unvarnished: Housing Discrimination in the Northern and Western United States,” found at UnvarnishedHistory.org, was developed through a $750,000 Institute of Museum and Library Services Museum Leadership grant. The Naperville historical museum and five other museums and cultural organizations collaborated from 2017 to 2022 to research and present their community’s history of exclusion…

“It is our hope that this project will act as a model and inspire other communities to research, share and reflect upon their own history. It is through this process that we are able to engage with the totality of history to better understand today and guide our decision-making for the future,” she said.

In doing research on Naperville and two other nearby suburbs, I had uncovered some of what is detailed in this exhibit. However, the local histories of the community rarely addressed any of this. Instead, they focused on the positive moments for white residents, typically connected to growth, progress, and notable members of the community.

Such an exhibit suggests a willingness for Naperville and other communities to better grapple with pasts built on privileging some and keeping others out. The history of many American suburbs include exclusion by race, ethnicity, and social class. This could happen through explicit regulations and ordinances, through regular practices, or through policies and actions not explicitly about race, ethnicity, or class but with clear outcomes for different groups.

As noted in the last paragraph above, hopefully these efforts do not end with past history but also help communities consider current and future patterns. For example, decisions about development – like what kind of housing is approved – influence who can live in a community.

McMansions as the fad of 2001

If we had to pick a year when McMansions were the key fad, would 2001 be it?

2001: McMansions

McMansions, shorthand for the oversized homes developed en-masse in the suburbs, were seen as status symbols by some and architectural abominations by others. By 2008, the crash of the housing market left many of these multi-bedroom behemoths empty or foreclosed upon.

The list of fads has McMansions in the right era. From the article I published in 2012 on defining a McMansion, the term and kind of home arose in the early 1990s and the term was more widely known and used by the early 2000s. By my count of mentions of McMansion in the New York Times and Dallas Morning News, the use of the term roughly peaked in 2005 and 2006.

So why 2001 – a very specific year – on this list of fads by years? It could be that surrounding years had more time-limited fads listed. Right before McMansions come Furbys, Latin pop, and Heelys and right after come beyblades, flash mobs, and wristbands for a cause. McMansions had to fit somewhere in a roughly ten year stretch and perhaps 2001 had the biggest opening.

Or, McMansions represented a different era in 2001 before September 11th of that year. A growing suburbia, SUVs and big homes, entering a new millennium. Enough homeowners had money to spend on big homes with a lot of square feet and a facade to impress the neighbors. The housing bubble crash came a few years later but perhaps McMansions had already peaked years before.

Looking at the full list of fads, the McMansion is the biggest item in the list in terms of price and size. When history is written (and rewritten), it will be interesting to see where McMansions fit into the late 1990s and early 2000s narratives as well as the broader sweep of housing.

Building a car-free 1,000 person development in Arizona

Construction of a small community with no cars is underway in Tempe, Arizona:

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Culdesac, a 17-acre car-free community being built in Tempe, has leased out its final retail spot ahead of its opening later this year.

Culdesac Tempe, which cost $170 million to develop, will have 761 residential units but with zero parking spaces for its residents. The final retail spot fits into Cudlesac’s “post-car” design and ethos – Archer’s Bikes, which will offer bicycle and accessory sales, test rides, rentals and repair.

Three thoughts on this limited description:

  1. This fits with a number of trends including denser areas (both in cities and “surban” spaces) and utilizing other forms of transportation beyond personal cars. Add in an exciting mix of shops, restaurants, and entertainment spaces and I could imagine a new development like this charging top dollar for units.
  2. Such a development could help make more day-to-day activity car-free but residents would likely still need motorized transportation to access areas outside of these 17 acres. It is important for such a development to be near other walkable/bikeable areas and mass transit options so residents can easily access the rest of the city and more of the region.
  3. Once this development opens up, it would be interesting to track residents in how they move, where they work, the relationships they build, and more. If this is going to catch on elsewhere, positive data – and hopefully some data on how such developments could be accessible to a wide range of people – could help make the case.

NIMBY vs. acronym opponents

I have heard of YIMBYs but this profile of a vigorous NIMBY resident of California suggested multiple options:

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To distinguish themselves from NIMBYs, the current generation of housing activists has adopted new “back yard” variants (YIMBY, “Yes in my backyard”; PHIMBY, “Public housing in my backyard”; YIGBY, “Yes in God’s backyard”) to declare how they are for things (everything, subsidized housing, building on church parking lots) that a NIMBY presumably is not. Politicians have piled on: In California, homeowners who are used to being catered to with a host of regulatory and tax policies recently woke up to discover that their governor, Gavin Newsom, told The San Francisco Chronicle, “NIMBYism is destroying the state.”

YIMBY has the advantage of being a clear and obvious alternative to No opinions on development and housing. PHIMBY looks better spelled out but could confuse hearers about whether it is FIMBY. YIGBY sounds like a religious or spiritual version of YIGBY.

A catchy and clear acronym could help make the anti-NIMBY case but it will not be enough on its own to combat the common NIMBYism present in the United States.Even with the concerns expressed about NIMBYs, they likely have the decided advantage in numbers and sentiments across American communities. Many residents want to protect their properties, views, neighborhoods, and investments from a variety of perceived threaters. It will be on actors who have the opposite point of view than NIMBYs to push sentiment and regulation in other directions. This is not an easy task, and this is true even in a state like California that needs a lot of affordable housing.

Can a McMansion dweller have the last laugh?

A controversial TikTok video suggests a housewife could get the last laugh in her McMansion:

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Finally, Drummond, who also considers herself a content creator, took issue with women who criticize other women who marry their bosses: “Women will bully the woman who’s the secretary who married the doctor, but who has the last laugh?” she asked on camera. “Her in her McMansion with her husband and her baby.”

This last line quoted above is not what is driving the conversation about the video but it does highlight the divisive nature of McMansions. One person could live there and love the house, the space it offers, and the success it symbolizes. Another person might say they would never live in a McMansion and they are an abomination on the housing landscape.

These two opposing views come into conflict in different ways. Those opposed to McMansions are unlikely to move into a neighborhood full of them. A teardown McMansion might create conflict between a possible new McMansion owner and neighbors with other kinds of homes. Proposed McMansions can invite comments and action by people inside or outside a community. The conversation cited above is a more abstract scenario involving life in a McMansion.

Adding opinions about McMansions to another hot conversation is unlikely to lead to resolution on McMansions. However, it does provide a reminder that real people live in McMansions and many like living in McMansions or would want to live in one. This also reminds me of an earlier set of posts about gendered life in McMansions

What children learn from HGTV #3: Houses are symbols of success and making it

In watching HGTV with children and studying suburbs and housing, I have several ideas of what kids learn while watching the network’s programming.

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Put together the ideas in the previous two posts – homes involve emotionally satisfying arcs and they pay off financially in the end – and add decades-long American ideology and houses are symbols of success and making it. The house, typically a single-family home on HGTV, is a visible, tangible monument that the owner is successful. Residents and show hosts talk about how the house symbolizes all of the struggle and work of a family. They talk about passing down a legacy to kids. They usually do not come out an say it but the home and its exterior provide a positive impression to neighbors and those passing by about the status of the residents.

Homeownership is celebrated on HGTV. An attractive house that meets the needs of the residents and broadcasts a message of success to others is the ideal. Almost no one wants to rent or live long-term with family or friends. Almost everyone is trying to move up to a better and/or more attractive home. The goal is to acquire one’s own home which provides well-being and financial security.

Ultimately, HGTV helps perpetuate homeownership and its link with the American Dream in the way it presents houses and what they are for. The people on the network find success in acquiring and improving homes and almost nothing else is discussed. Kids watching HGTV see that people need to acquire and/or improve a house to be a successful adult.

What children learn from HGTV #2: Houses pay off financially

In watching HGTV with children and studying suburbs and housing, I have several ideas of what kids learn while watching the network’s programming.

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In addition to the upbeat emotions on HGTV, the network relentlessly suggests houses are worth the financial investment. Numerous shows discuss how much money is involved, whether that is in the purchase price or the profit or equity made in repairing a home or the costs to particular changes. These are often not small sums; budgets are usually in the tens of thousands or more and few characters discuss how they have such money to spend.

But, the big sums of money are worth it in the end because homes are an important investment. Sure, they are to be enjoyed – and the reveals at the end of many HGTV episodes are full of positivity – but the money may be even more important. Everyone has spent a lot of money on these homes and they are worth it because they will be worth even more in the future.

HGTV often embodies the shift in the United States from homes as important centers of family life to financial investments. The money to be gained by owning or renovating a home is never far away on HGTV.