Thursday, June 21, 2007

Think Globally, Ignore Locally

Jimmy the Predator in Overton Park Woods
3 weeks ago, the story Buyers live large on big lots ran in the Commercial Appeal.

In keeping with trends documented in a U.S. Census report this week, home sizes are expanding dramatically across Greater Memphis.

In Shelby County, the average house built these days is about 3,000 square feet, nearly double what it was in 1974. And nearly 21 percent of all Shelby homes -- new and old -- now have at least four bedrooms, a proportion slightly higher than that for the entire nation.

The growth in home sizes in the Memphis area has come as local governments increased the minimum lot sizes allowed in new developments.

Fast-growing Arlington, for instance, gradually raised its minimum from 8,000 square feet about 10 years ago to 13,000 square feet today. Town recorder and treasurer Cathy Durant said larger lot sizes bring many benefits, including reduced density, which means less noise and traffic congestion.

There's lots of good information about this trend, except -- the story never even mentions the environment, and this trend's possible-to-certain negative effect. It could be 1971, but with big-ass houses!

The story does note the the lack of new affordable houses.

One unwelcome result of the trend, Grant says, is a shortage of new affordable housing for first-time buyers in the immediate Memphis area.

"We cannot offer affordable homes any more," Grant said.

"They're available -- you just have to drive farther out to get to them."

Farther out, but not a whisper of the possibility of going further in.

We have tangible, daily and local evidence of global warming, drought, pollution and the decline of the petroleum supply, yet this local story had none of these words in it:
  • warming
  • drought
  • pollution
  • gasoline or
  • environment
(There was a mention of New Urbanism in Collierville though).

Meanwhile, massive lots and massive new houses on them require:
  • greater deforestation and environmental destruction.
  • greater commutes and attendant consumption of petroleum and production of pollutants, as density decreases
  • expanded infrastructure which requires more deforestation and environmental destruction
  • massive amounts of materials, energy and water to build, heat, cool and maintain
I do understand that the environment wasn't the point of the article; statement of a business trend was. But I think it's analogous to publishing, in the middle of a crime wave, a story about the increase in dropout rates, without mentioning a possible connection between the two. Correction: it's analogous to printing a story about cities and educators intentionally increasing the dropout rate in the middle of an unmentioned crime wave.

I wonder: was this a marketing decision by the CA?

Update: and now a story from this morning's paper about the EPA's raising the Memphis area's pollution standard, "citing worrisome new evidence about health dangers". It was written by the same reporter, Tom Charlier, as the big lots article.

Again I wonder: was it a marketing decision to ignore the environmental effects of massive lots?

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Blogger Will Barrett said...

Is the dog panting because his driveway is so long and wooded?

1:21 PM  
Blogger gatesofmemphis said...

no, he's panting because it's humid as hell and he's just taken a long walk through the Overton Park woods.

A lazy choice of picture, maybe.

Great first post, by the way. Invasive or not, I've been admiring the mimosas lately. Still better than a clear cut (I think).

8:23 AM  
Blogger MATAlac said...

"It's just easy to spread out down here"

You said a mouthful sista.

You've touch on a lot of loaded stuff. People in the middle can't see the edge and constantly build out by default. Getting them back and forth is a serious waste of resources. Are the developers aware of what they are building?

I've entered a new realm out here in Seattle, I could move out and get a much bigger place, but I'm choosing not to lose sight of the skyline where I work. This decision will be a short term burden, but it will pay off eventually.

BTW- It was a beautiful day here, I walked home from work. That is a luxury that I wouldn't trade for thousands of square feet and a big lawn.

2:00 AM  

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