Does talking about the McMansions of yachts make sense?

Purchase a luxury yacht – a “floating McMansion” – or you can choose one below that level yet still expensive:

The four-bedroom, three-bathroom luxury cruiser offers three floors of light-flooded living space, sundecks galore, two full kitchens and no shortage of closet space. The bedrooms are surprisingly spacious — more-so than most New York City apartments — and a gyro built into the hull keeps the boat so level at sea it hardly feels like a boat at all, even when it tops out at 25 miles per hour, Curry said.

“They are like a house and that’s what they are for these people — vacation homes,” said Chris Broadbent, a salesman for Grande Yachts. “You can buy a vacation home in Montauk for $1.6 million or more and you’re stuck there — which there are worse places to be stuck — but you can pay almost the same price for one of these and go anywhere.”

While the Norwalk Boat Show offers impressive examples of a luxury life at sea, not every boat needs to feel like a floating McMansion and run upwards of $2 million to be realistically livable for an extended period of time.

Mike Bassett, co-owner of Louis Marine in Westbrook, said the essentials for comfortable on-board living include heat and air conditioning, hot water and a microwave. Typically these boats are 35 to 40 feet, and can run anywhere from $130,000 to nearly $500,000 depending on the level of luxury, detailing and features that are added. The larger the boat, the more maintenance required, so really, it’s all about the lifestyle one is willing to live.

I am always intrigued to see what other consumer or luxury goods are compared to McMansions. Using the term implies more than just an expensive item: it is a mass-produced, gaudy or garish item of questionable quality intended to flash the status of their owner. Does a luxury yacht fit this bill? I would say no based on three factors:

  1. The price of the yachts said to be “floating McMansion[s]” costs more than the average American McMansion. (The average price would include a rough estimate based on housing markets across the United States.) This puts what is truly a more unusual consumer good already (how many Americans can purchase boats after their other expenses) out of reach of many people.
  2. These expensive boats are not mass-produced on the same scale as McMansions. There are plenty of boats in the United States – nearly 12 million registered boats according to Statista – but how many of them are these more expensive boats?
  3. The architecture or design of an expensive boat receives less attention than houses. Are new expensive yachts garish or poorly designed compared to older big yachts? It is hard to know what people’s perceptions are of this if the conversation is not as public or the conversation does not exist.

I’m open to hearing arguments for why this comparison – expensive boats are like McMansions – makes sense.

The need for infrastructure to move future freight

This look at the future of moving freight in the United States suggests there is work to be done in developing the necessary infrastructure:

The scale of the infrastructure that moves our stuff is staggering, yet we hardly notice it beyond appreciating how fast a book has arrived or growing agitated with double-parked delivery trucks. But the ships, trains, trucks, ports, rails, roads, and support structure that facilitates the metabolism of our society will soon be more visible. The Census Bureau estimates a nearly 20 percent population increase by 2040—that’s one new person every 12 seconds who needs and wants stuff…

As ships bring bigger swells of goods and ask for quicker turnaround times, the ports are focusing on how to get those goods off the ship and on the roads or rails faster. So while ships are maximizing economies, ports are focusing on efficiency. “We are using less to move more,” said Curtis Foltz, executive director of the Georgia Ports Authority, echoing the company tagline (“we use less to move more”). The authority recently converted as much equipment as possible from diesel to electric, including cranes that generate 30 percent of their own power from gravity, and efficient rack systems for growing numbers of “reefers,” or refrigerated containers…

The DOT estimates an 88 percent increase in rail freight demand by 2035, and Forbes recently predicted that rail will become the most important logistics system of the 21st Century. The reliability and efficiency of rail is already eating into trucking’s market share, as trains are increasingly used for hauls as short as 500 miles, formerly only the domain of trucks. But increasing capacity of the country’s 140,000-mile rail network and its upkeep will require huge capital expenditure, estimated by the Federal Railroad Administration to reach $149 billion over the next 20 years…

The Federal Highway Administration has some numbers to consider: In 2011, approximately 11 million trucks moved 16.1 billion tons of freight worth $14.9 trillion. This level of activity caused recurring peak-period congestion on 10 percent of the National Highway System. Now consider that commercial vehicles currently account for only 9 percent of all vehicle highway miles traveled. Think rush hour is bad now? The FHA estimates that in the next 30 years, there will be 60 percent more trucks, translating to significant slowing on 28,000 miles of the NHS during peak hours, and stop-and-go conditions on an additional 46,000 miles.

There may be a lot of interest in driverless cars but it just be “old” technologies like ships and railroads that keep the flow of goods moving as well as large trucks. When you think about, the whole system is quite amazing: transporting enough goods for 300+ million people requires a lot of coordination and energy.

It will be interesting to see who pays for these upgraded structures; improving ports, for example, could be economic boosts but they are not usually sexy projects and there are plenty of more immediate quality-of-life issues that get more attention (education, health care, etc.) Would consumers complain if the cost of their relatively cheap goods went up to pay for some of these improvements?

Throwing out ideas – like gondolas – for Chicago’s Riverwalk

One Chicago firm threw out some ideas for Chicago’s proposed Riverwalk and they included the idea of gondolas:

With the city’s major overhaul of the Chicago Riverwalk and the new Lighting Framework Plan, which will bathe downtown Chicago with bright colorful lights, designers are getting creative about all of the things that can be done to transform the Riverwalk into a must-visit tourist attraction.

Local engineering outfit VIATechnik has sent us some renderings of what they imagine the Riverwalk could one day become. Their ideas for the Riverwalk include cafes, live music, a fitness center, and even gondola tours. Ok, so the Chicago River is already pretty crowded, and probably wouldn’t be the best place for relaxing gondola rides, but there’s no doubt that in a few years the area will be completely transformed, and will become a much more popular tourist spot.

A rep from VIATechnik told us that they aren’t actually submitting these ideas to the city for the Lighting Framework Plan, or any other initiative, but instead, they just wanted to throw the ideas out there to generate some discussion, and of course some publicity. Previously, the company held their own unofficial Lucas Museum design competition, and received some pretty submissions.

Even if the gondolas were intended to generate more discussion, they raise an interesting question: how much can a city borrow from other cities in a new development? Chicago is not the first place to consider a Riverwalk – in fact, I wonder what has taken so long, particularly given Chicago’s lauded protection of land along Lake Michigan – but it is difficult to develop completely new ideas. A city does not want to ape other cities but you can likely borrow some if you put your own twist on things.  Gondolas seem too derivative yet is there a Chicago style small boat that fits what you would want in these situations?