Stereotypes of apartment renters

Americans who are homeowners, whether they own single-family homes, condos, and townhomes, are typically regarded as respectable, hard-working, and upstanding citizens who have sought after the American Dream. But there are different opinions regarding those who rent apartments. Here is an example from Manteca, California:

You rarely see landlords for single family homes that stringent and quite frankly, not all homeowners could pass such muster.

That is why it is a tad absurd that a number of homeowners when confronted with news that someone is proposing a $30 million apartment complex in their neighborhood believe it will be allowed to be occupied by rowdy, inconsiderate slobs, who will park cars all over the adjoining neighborhood and pursue a lifestyle that will drive home prices down.

If you want to see such behavior, there are plenty examples in Manteca neighborhoods – including those built since 2000.

No one is debating that there aren’t examples of somewhat trashy older apartment complexes that let everything go to hell. In Manteca, though, they are fairly rare due to the aggressive stance the city has taken. And in fairness to many owners of smaller and older apartment buildings in town where rents definitely are more affordable they are doing a good job of keeping their complexes in shape and devoid of problem tenants.

To go after single family homes whose tenants create such problems is much more difficult as often a landlord will have only one or two homes and live out of the area.

It is also true that the much more stringent construction and development standards of today make it next to impossible for rents for new complexes to be relatively low. That is why Paseo Apartments starts out at $975 a month for a one bedroom and one bathroom apartment.

In my research on suburban development, I found a number of examples where suburbanites were opposed to apartments because of the type of people who live in apartments. One complaint was about the transient nature of apartment living. The assumption was that single-family homeowners are more rooted in a community while apartment dwellers move more frequently and care less about individual municipalities. Having too many apartments would mean that a greater proportion of residents wouldn’t really care about the community. This was commonly tied to the disruption of a community’s single-family home character

But a second complaint included thoughts about low-income residents and seemed tied at times to race and ethnicity. Since these suburbs were heavily white, apartments were seen as places where less wealthy and non-white residents could live. Such residents might engage in more uncouth behavior, sullying the reputation of idyllic, white suburbs. Apartment complexes are viewed as crime magnets because lower-income, non-white residents are assumed to be more prone to crime.

It sounds like both issues might be taking place in Manteca: even nicer apartment complexes with high rents and amenities are not granted the moral equivalency of a nice single-family home neighborhood. Additionally, the author tries to point out that there is anti-social behavior in single-family homes as well as apartment complexes but this isn’t often recognized.

With all of the talk about more multi-family housing construction, these issues will need to be overcome in many communities.

(Side note: a third complaint about apartments I found is the argument that apartments don’t generate enough tax revenue for the services that will be required. This commonly is tied to school funding as apartments, depending on their price and size, might attract more families who will overburden the schools. So senior apartments might be more likely to be approved than three or four bedroom apartments that will likely draw families to the community.)

Discussing “princess culture”

The topic of gender stereotypes in American culture tends to provoke interesting conversations. Virginia Postrel writes about “princess culture” and why this has such staying power in a culture and country that has never had real princesses:

Yet among today’s educated urbanites, “princess culture” is the subject of raging debate. What some parents consider innocent make-believe, others deem character-eroding indoctrination. Calling your daughter a princess fosters “a sense of entitlement and undeserved superiority,” declares one mother, commenting on a CafeMom post called, “Is the Princess Fantasy Dangerous?” Others fear that princess stories teach girls to be pretty and helpless, waiting for a prince to rescue them instead of acting on their own behalf. Should liberated women let their daughters play Cinderella? It’s a topic with which mommy blogs never seem to tire…

To play princess is to embrace two promises: “You are special” and “Life can be wonderful.”…

Neither of these need entail narcissistic entitlement or female passivity. Even that old-fashioned children’s classic, Frances Hodgson Burnett’s 1904 novel “A Little Princess,” portrays an imaginative, individualistic young heroine. Suddenly orphaned and destitute, Sara Crewe imagines herself a princess not only to escape her miserable circumstances but to maintain her good manners and self-control. “If you were a princess,” she reminds herself, “you did not fly into rages.” When unfairly abused, “you can’t sneer back at people like that—if you are a princess.”

For all its Victorian stoicism and sense of duty, this princess dream shares the mixture of openness and elitism that gives princesses their contemporary appeal. Like the superhero, the princess has a special identity and destiny. She is more than an ordinary girl. But her value is not determined by playground hierarchies. You don’t have to be popular to be a princess. You can be an iconoclast, even an outcast, but you must be worthy. You must be good. In this version, as my then-5-year-old niece once wrote me, “Anyone can be a PRINCESS.”

Postrel suggests that princess should be a broader term than referring to a girl who is just pretty or just acts in a dignified manner. Perhaps this is the key to the whole debate: simply change the definition of what a princess looks and acts like. Could we have a brainy princess? Could we have a devious or curious princess rather than just submissive princesses?

Thinking about it from another angle, what powerful alternatives to being a princess are there that would appeal to young girls? Wanting to be a princess seems to be powerfully shaped by being raised in a particular cultural milieu. While I’m sure there are lots of people who would say that there are all sorts of alternatives, are these commonly presented in the media (movies, TV) or in popular culture at large? Do we have and want heroines who kick butt and don’t take no for an answer? And can’t we push for alternatives by buying and consuming different goods?

h/t Instapundit

Listing the “coolest suburbs worth a visit”

Critiques of suburbs have often included the charge that they are boring. But perhaps this stereotype is cracking: Travel+Leisure provides a list of the “coolest suburbs worth a visit.” A few things seem to unite these communities: they have “cool” cultural attractions (and some have drawn the attention of celebrities) and have a uniqueness or character that sets them apart from the “typical” suburb.

While I don’t suspect that suburban tourism will soon explode, this is a reminder that there is a lot of interesting things to see and do in suburbs. And if more and more visitors and tourists do head to the suburbs, I’m sure the communities will be happy to see them.

Spies in suburbia: not unusual

The Russian spy ring recently caught in America was primarily based in suburbia. One New York Times writer argues that this is not that unusual:

We’ve seen this movie before, a variation on “Fun With Dick and Jane” or “Mr. & Mrs. Smith,” among others.

It’s fun, but as sociology, the story line set against the presumed seamless banality of suburban life gets ever flimsier. We seem to have had a computer chip implanted in our brain about the time of “Little Boxes,” the dopey and incredibly sanctimonious 1962 song about suburban conformity (“Little boxes made of ticky tacky … Little boxes all the same”) that helped define the suburbs. And it seems to persist even as its descriptive value trends toward zero. So at a time when more than half of Americans live in suburbs, what exactly does the suburban part of this tale tell us? Alas, not much.

The article contains more information about the growing diversity in suburbia including a smaller number of families living the “Ozzie and Harriet sort of life.” (Perhaps this phrase needs to be updated for the 21st century since “Ozzie and Harriet” is a little dated. How about the “Homer and Marge Simpson suburban life”?) If a majority of Americans live in suburbia, it is not unusual that a number of nefarious characters come out of suburbia.

What is not addressed in this article is a stereotype that suburbia leads people to such things as spying, violence, and breaking up their families to escape the dull and empty suburban lifestyle. In this case, the Russians came to suburbia to blend in and live a normal life.

Not simply deriding suburban life

An AP story discusses a supposed movement to take the suburbs more seriously and move beyond common negative stereotypes. One scholar accurately notes:

“Change your mind about what the suburbs are,” said Robert Puentes, a suburban scholar at the Brookings Institution. “They’re not just bedroom communities for center-city workers. They’re not just rich enclaves. They’re not all economically stable. They’re not all exclusively white.”

“These are not your father’s suburbs of the 1950s and 1960s.”

Efforts toward this end include a new museum in Johnson County, Kansas and several academic centers.

These stereotypes will take time to overcome. Common stereotypes, dating back to at least the 1950s, include: bland homes and people, desperate housewives, whites only, lifestyles centered all around children, wealthy people only, conservative, low-brow, garish (from strip malls to shopping malls to McMansions).

The story cites two academic centers for suburban studies. For much of the last 100 years, academics have often led the way in deriding suburbia. To fight some of these stereotypes, more academics would need to be able to move beyond knee-jerk reactions and acknowledge suburbia’s complexities.