You don’t have to loathe McMansions to support tiny houses

An interview with New Zealand actor/musician Bryce Langston about his interest in tiny houses includes his response to growing up in a McMansion:

8. Describe your childhood home.

I grew up in a McMansion, really. My parents have a large house on the Shore, four bedrooms, two lounges, an office. It was a great family home. I actually don’t loathe McMansions at all. I have seen wonderful large homes that have been constructed with great thought and care for the environment around them. They are just not a practical solution for all the people on the planet in a world with limited space and resources. The main problem is the debt associated with owning them. And the lack of freedom that comes with that debt…

10. Are you an evangelist for minimalism?

What I want to do is let people know there’s a choice. If you’re happy with how things are in your life and the work you do to pay for that then that’s fine. But lots of people aren’t. They’re really hurting and unhappy in their jobs and they don’t see a way out of being in debt for 30 years or whatever. People say you have to live in the real world, but the real tangible world is one where food does grow on trees and water falls from the sky and everything is provided for you to survive…

12. Will tiny houses take over the world one day?

That really depends on the path of human consciousness. If we grow into a culture that focuses on fair distribution of resources, care of the planet and pursuit of non-material happiness, then I think downsized homes will become normal. If our society continues down the path of uncontrolled material and economic growth, then it’s unlikely.

Langston offers some of the common critiques of McMansions – they are about materialism, they use too many resources, they put people in debt – while also noting that he enjoyed the large home he grew up in. If you read some of the criticisms of McMansions, it may be hard to imagine anyone could enjoy living in a McMansion.

There are also some religious and moral overtones here. Langston ties living in a home to larger issues in human life including defining success and what it means to achieve something. This isn’t unusual in discussing McMansions (see another example here or this recent case of a Catholic archibishop): homes could be considered necessary structures but they can also be places of meaning as well as important symbols for others to see.

Nice guy political leaders don’t live in McMansions?

As a New Zealand journalist paints a nice guy image of the leader of the opposition party, there is an interesting bit about the leader’s home:

The Goffs’ home is spacious and comfortable – it’s not a McMansion, those sorts of architect-designed, three-level monuments to money that have sprung up in the more fashionable rural suburbs of Auckland, although there is a small kidney-shaped swimming pool. You can tell a family has been raised here and that the family will always be welcome home.

This description contains some of the common complaints about McMansions: they are excessive homes built by social strivers in the suburbs. At the same time, there is a contrast to typical complaints: these are designed by architects? Also, are McMansions not capable of being welcoming places or having the traits that show kids were raised there?

But one does have to wonder whether this particular home might just be labeled a McMansion if the leader wasn’t such a nice guy or the journalist didn’t have a positive experience. By saying his home is not a McMansion, the journalist is painting a down-to-earth, positive image.

Become a world city by designating a Chinatown

A sociologist suggests Auckland, New Zealand would be closer to being a world city if it officially created a Chinatown:

Sociologist Paul Spoonley, who co-authored the report, said if Auckland is serious about being rated as a world city it needs to start promoting itself as one.

London, Sydney, Melbourne, New York, Los Angeles and Vancouver all have Chinatowns.

“I mean Chinatown in Sydney is the third most visited destination for tourists in Sydney,” Spoonley told TV ONE’s Close Up.

“These sorts of ethnic precincts are what tourists, international tourists, like to see as well.”

On the positive side: Spoonley seems to be suggesting that Auckland would show off its multicultural side by having an official Chinatown that it could then promote to tourists. It would suggest Auckland is serious about welcoming new residents and also celebrates their traditions.  On the negative side: having a Chinatown does not necessarily a world city make. I suspect Auckland might have to do a bit more before it is considered a world city. Such cities, often known as “global cities,” are often financial centers, with all of the business, wealth, and status that this confers, and centers of culture, which attracts celebrities, intellectuals, and tourists.

While this idea might need to be expanded, Spoonley’s broader suggestion is interesting: a city can become a world class city simply by promoting itself as such. Has this happened with other cities?

Homes still large in New Zealand

While new American homes have gotten smaller and this trend might continue into the future (I wrote about a piece in Slate that has been getting a lot of attention on this front), homes in New Zealand had also increased in size in recent decades though this might change in the near future:

Latest research from Quotable Value puts the average size of a home built since 2010 at 205 square metres, against just 142.4 square metres in 1980.

Quotable Value research director Jonno Ingerson said much of the increase could be put down to a rise in the construction of four bedroom homes, particularly during the last 20 years…

However significant increases in the cost of building in recent years meant the rate of growth was now slowing, suggesting homes may not get much larger, he said.

“There is also a push by some of the larger city councils to encourage medium density housing in fringe city suburbs. This type of housing will have smaller floor areas than the traditional suburban family homes that have been built over the last 20 years.”

It sounds like similar trends are taking place in New Zealand.

Several years ago, I had read a number of books comparing housing in the United States to European countries. While there are often clear differences there, it would be interesting to see recent research or books comparing the US housing market to that of Australia and New Zealand where bigger houses had also become the norm in recent decades. Will all three countries end up following a similar path toward smaller homes?

Chinese purchase “monster homes” in New Zealand

McMansion type homes are not just restricted to the United States. This article describes what Chinese buyers are moving into in New Zealand:

When veteran architect Ron Sang drives around the outer fringes of Auckland near Albany or Botany, he can always spot a house built for a Chinese buyer.

“Generally it has a high portico on the outside – a big, high, ostentatious-looking porch, usually double height,” he says.

“Generally above the door you have a window and through the window you can see chandeliers. Inside the door you’ll see a big, ostentatiously curved stairway. They like to show wealth.”

These grand mansions on small suburban sections – what sociologist Paul Spoonley, adopting a Canadian term, calls “monster houses” – have become the stereotypical Chinese footprints in our cityscape.

While the homes described here are called “monster homes,” this sounds very similar to what Americans would call McMansions with the traits of a big entryway, garish appointments, the goal of impressing a buyer or visitor, and large homes on relatively small lots in suburban neighborhoods.

There is an interesting discussion later in the article about Chinese immigration to and residential patterns of Chinese residents in New Zealand.