Suburbanites in wealthier areas are not all wealthy and can be Democrats and identify as working-class

The recent victory of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in New York’s 14th House District has led some to question her background:

Ocasio-Cortez was born in 1989 to parents Sergio Ocasio-Roman, who was born in New York City, and mother Blanca Ocasio-Cortez, a native of Puerto Rico.

Her father, who tragically died from lung cancer in 2008, was an architect and the CEO of Kirschenbaum & Ocasio-Roman Architects, PC, which focused on remodeling and renovations…

Initially, the young family lived in Parkchester, a planned community of 171 mid-rise brick buildings in the Bronx.

When she was about five, Ocasio-Cortez’s family moved to the house in Westchester County, a detail that the bio omits.

The timing of the move is confirmed in a New York Times interview with mother Blanca Ocasio-Cortez, but the report does not address the discrepancy.

The home, a single-story with a finished basement, most recently sold for $355,000 in 2016. The median annual income in the area is $116,741, compared to the median annual income of $48,315 in Parkchester’s zip code, according to the latest Census data…

Her father’s death came amid the financial crisis and he left no will, putting their home on the brink of foreclosure, she has said.

The house was sold and Ocasio-Cortez now lives in the same Bronx apartment where she lived until age five.

I do not know all the details of Ocasio-Cortez’s background. The goal of the article above seems to be to suggest she is not quite the person she presents herself as and instead grew up in relatively privileged settings. Yet, her own descriptions are not necessarily out of character with what actually is taking place in suburbs today:

  1. Not everyone who lives in the suburbs is wealthy or even middle-class. Westchester County is historically a wealthy county outside of New York City. Yet, like many suburban counties that have experienced increased populations of poorer residents and non-white residents, there is more variety in social class and race and ethnicity in Westchester County than people might think. According to the Census, the county is only 53.4% white alone, 24.9% Latino, and 16.5% black. The median household income is over $86,000 but 10.0% of residents live in poverty. In other words, not everyone in Westchester County is a wealthy white person and some residents are more working-class (by certain measures or by self-identification).
  2. A common argument in the postwar suburban boom was that residents of cities would move to the suburbs and become staunch Republicans. This may have been true in some locations, particularly wealthier suburbs. However, the suburbs are now more diverse politically with numerous political battles depending on suburban voters. Suburbs closer to cities now lean toward Democrats while suburbs further out lean toward Republicans. Good numbers of American suburbanites are Democrats.

In other words, suburbs are now often diverse. Long-standing understandings of wealthier and whiter counties, whether Westchester County or DuPage County, might take time to change.

11,000 square foot NYC homes designed by a noted architect qualify as McMansions?

Villanova Heights is a newer residential development in the Bronx, New York City. Despite being designed by noted architect Robert A.M Stern, Curbed NY says even the smallest homes in the development are McMansions:

We’ve occasionally mentioned Villanova Heights, the McMansion community in Riverdale designed by Robert A.M. Stern. And by McMansions, we mean houses that aren’t only huge in comparison to Manhattan apartments—the smallest Bobby A.M. creations in Villanova Heights are around 11,000 square feet. The rents are similarly hefty, with the first two completed homes in the development renting for $13,000 and $16,000 per month. Now we’re finally getting a peek inside one of these things, with the new listing for 5020 Iselin Avenue, an 11,000-square-footer on a 25,000-square-foot lot that contains a heated swimming pool and cabana. In fact, we’d be amazed if there were anything this house didn’t contain. When it comes to Riverdale, though, this one’s still our favorite.

Two things strike me here:

1. The homes are at least 11,000 square feet. This is more like a mansion, not just a McMansion. Percentage-wise, very few American homes are that large. When people typically refer to suburban McMansions, they are thinking of homes that are 3,500 to 5,000 square feet.

2. The neighborhood is designed by a noted architect and yet the houses are still called McMansions. One major criticism of McMansion is that they lack tasteful design or more authentic materials. So is this more of a criticism of Stern’s home designs than anything else? Stern is a noted architect but designs McMansions?

This is how the Villanova Heights website describes the home design philosophy:

In developing Villanova Heights, Robert A.M. Stern Architects has adhered to its philosophy that the residences designed “do not, by their very being, threaten the esthetic and cultural values of the buildings around them.” Further, that no one style “is appropriate to every building and every place.” Finally, consistent with Robert A.M. Stern’s belief in the continuity of tradition, his firm’s work on Villanova Heights is driven “by entering into a dialogue with the past and with the spirit of the places in which we build.”

Does this sound like a description of a McMansion?