Sometimes, David Brooks makes me tear out what remains of my hair.
Other times I agree with him so strongly, I wish I’d written his words myself. That happened again last week, when the New York Times columnist wrote that one result of our current economic woes is that “the great age of headroom” has ended.
“The oversized now looks slightly ridiculous,” he writes. “New houses had great rooms with 20-foot ceilings and entire new art forms had to be invented to fill the acres of empty overhead wall space.”
Online, the Times invited experts to respond.
Architecture professors Ellen Dunham-Jones and Jill Williamson said:
Facing the ongoing deflation of the housing bubble, it’s time to dramatically rethink the types and locations of dwellings we build….
For the past 60 years the housing market has catered to boomers with a “move-up” model providing ever-larger houses. It worked while they were receiving raises and raising families – but not as they approach retirement. Who wants to upsize now – especially with all of the related costs? Instead, we see great benefits to a renewed emphasis on the lifelong use value of our homes and neighborhoods for all stages of life.
The downsizing of housing is coming at an opportune time. Because neither of the big demographic bulges, the Boomers and Gen Y, is in prime child-rearing years, demographers predict that 75 percent to 85 percent of newly formed households through 2025 will not have kids in them.
These will be the folks controlling the market. They will be seeking more compact houses and apartments, flexible in use and located in lively settings, both in cities and in the suburban areas where the most job growth can be expected.
To adapt and prepare for a more resilient future, communities would do well to revise their zoning and subdivision codes: increase street network connectivity and walkability, eliminate lot size minimums, permit accessory dwelling units, and allow for the subdivision of large homes into duplexes, even quads.
Recognize the benefits – from reduced carbon footprints to providing options for “aging-in-community” by older residents – of building well-designed multi-unit housing, including rental, in transit-served locations.
“06880” readers are invited to join the debate. Some questions to consider:
- What are the pluses and minuses of super-sized houses?
- How did these homes become the de facto standard? Why — in these tough economic times — do they continue to be built?
- Are they appropriate for Westport? Will they keep selling in the near future — and longer term, as families grow smaller, and our population ages?
- If “the great age of headroom” has ended, what will replace the current large houses? Is another type of housing economically feasible in Westport?
- Is Westport unique in this debate — or are we just another suburb?
Be thoughtful. Play nice. Don’t drag your neighbors through the mud.