From the times the settlers stormed the plains, homeownership has been the American dream, and Americans’ dreams have been big (average US home size is 3X Great Britain’s). The average size of American homes doubled between the 1950’s and the 2000’s. There is controversy about the trend in housing size, the impacts and how can negative effects be mitigated. In Phoenix, whose economy is so driven by real estates, these factors will have a major impact on its future.
The average house in the US, which was 1660 square feet in 1973, reached a high of almost 2521 square feet in 2007. The many reasons for the growth included wanting more privacy, to be in areas with the best schools, more availability of large homes, and “because I can afford it.” Seeing the “cribs” of rich people also inspired people.
The impacts the “McMansion” trend were also numerous, including longer commutes, high-energy use and costs, segregation of families, isolation within families (e.g., everyone had their own room and television), and people living beyond their means.
These disadvantages loomed during the recession: foreclosures boomed and average houses shrank. By 2010, the average house was 2392 sq. feet. The National Association of Home Builders thinks the trend will continue, as condos and apartments increase. But the National Association of Realtors points to a decline in the size decreases in 2011, as the economy improved.
Most understand the efficiency of smaller homes, and in-fill building is increasing in Phoenix. But is all in-fill desired or beneficial? Will we overdo high-rise, sterile towers like we overdid identical, pink-roofed ranch houses?
One aspect, which is seldom discussed, is housing’s contribution to health. Phil Allsopp is co-founder of Smart Pad Living, LLC. “The mission of Smart Pad Living,” says Allsopp, “Is to help people reduce their risks of chronic disease by providing affordable, high performing dwellings to enable healthy, active living.”
Allsopp will build attractive, low-rise, energy-efficient homes, accessible by bike or public transportation, which combat high noise/low light /poor air conditions that hinder sleep, increase allergies, asthma and other illnesses. Allsopp advocates better housing design as a member of ASU’s Global Institute of Sustainability, and Phoenix’s Sustainability Advisory Committee.
In the Phoenix metropolitan area, more attention should be paid, not only to where new housing is built, but the type of new housing. The choices will determine the social, economic and emotional well-being of its residents.