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Modern Families in Yesterday's Construction
Modern Families in Yesterday's Construction

AIR DATE: December 7, 2011

Family structures have changed drastically during the past ten years. Family homes, for the most part, haven’t.

“We’ve been stuck in this 1950s model for the past 60 years. [Builders] know they can rely on it,” says Devin Browne, a reporter with the Fronteras: Changing America Desk in Phoenix.

But due to the economy, as well as cultural and demographic shifts, kids are living at home well to their 20s, and many older people find themselves cohabitating with their children and grandchildren. In 1950, about half of all homes had children. By 2030, Browne says, only a fourth will have kids, and more single people will be homeowners, too.

Yet, homebuilders have been slow to react to these changes, in part, Browne says, because it’s simply not in their nature to do so.

“The way that the development industry works is really different from, say, the personal technology industry, where they can create a product that customers haven’t even told them that they wanted yet,” Browne says. “I didn’t know I wanted an iPhone until Steve Jobs put it in front of me and then I said ‘I have to have this.’ And the homebuilding industry is really different. They don’t usually innovate ahead of customer demand.”

Turning Cul-de-sacs into Community Space

Browne followed a group of Arizona State University graduate students who were looking to rebuild— and completely re-envision—the traditional cul-de-sac, a housing development staple of the American Southwest. Their professor in ASU’s School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning, Aaron Golub, envisions subdivisions where the cul-de-sac doesn’t have any asphalt at all. Rather, the entire front section is a public park, complete with gardens, semi-private nooks and playgrounds.

Pretty radical, right?

Golub points out that the creation of these dense cul-de-sacs won’t only answer the demographic issue. It will also help foster a greater sense of community among residents.

“Many lament the lack of community and lament the lack of intergenerational interactions,” Golub says of Southwestern housing developments. “This is a way we can get back to intergenerational communication.”

And, Browne says, he might be onto something. In the ASU study, there were seven homes on the cul-de-sac. None of the neighbors seemed to know each other, and didn’t particularly seem to mind. Community, except anecdotally, was nonexistent.

A Tough Time for Big Ideas

But Bill Lenhart, owner and broker of Sunbelt Development says of Golub’s idea: Not so fast. Although casitas, and casitas with full kitchenettes are catching on as an add-on, home builders suffering from the down economy aren’t going to be keen to take risks. “They are being super conservative right now,” he says, which makes sense.

Buying a house, after all, is a lot more of an investment than buying an iPhone.

Alan Hess, an architecture historian and critic, says he thinks that change will happen, but that it will have to be more than just structural—it has to be emotional, too. People have to buy into it, and zoning laws, traditionally an obstacle to new, innovative types of dense housing in the Southwest, will have to evolve with the demography of communities.

“The solution to these problems is going to be, as it has in the past, on a mass basis,” Hess says. “Small interventions from neighborhood to neighborhood aren’t necessarily going to solve this.”

Devin Browne, reporter, Fronteras: The Changing America Desk
Aaron Golub, Asst Prof, School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning, ASU
Bill Lenhart, owner and broker, Sunbelt Development
Alan Hess, architecture historian and critic

comments powered by Disqus
Maida: Don't feel alone.. I also was on hold for an extended period of time until I gave up. It seems as the host was more interested in the sound of his own voice then taking the calls which he requested and hearing the opinions of others. It is not the last time that has happened and probably will not be the last.
Will SchroederDec 5, 2011 12:04:10 PM
I am a 31 year old husband and father of two, and I am very interested in things like co-housing, walkable communities, and actually having a sense of community where I live in Las Vegas. The Demand exists for the living places like the cul-de-sac conversion given in the discussion today. I my opinion, developers are not likely to meet this demand on a mass scale. It might take a more grassroots effort to get the momentum for this type of thing started in a place like Las Vegas.
Riley BallardDec 5, 2011 10:32:07 AM
I was on hold for a very long time... I just want to let you guys know that there is a big group of young adults from their early 20's to mid 30's with degrees and masters that are more interested on building communities with this type of homes zeitgeits movement school 2012 Some of us are planning going WWOOF(ing) so we can learn how to cultivate our own produce... We are just tire of everything is going everybody should watch this
MaidaDec 5, 2011 10:06:52 AM
Hello, I am one of the graduate students working on this project with Aaron Golub. I'm interested to know more about this group you mentioned, working on zeitgeits movement school 2012. Who could I contact to find out more?
Whitney WarmanDec 7, 2011 10:48:44 AM
I am an RE agent which may or may not be relevant but would indicate that I have somoe experience in this area. YOU are have a whole missing area. YOU do not have city or county zoning people on this program which could address this potential are of development. Many areas are not zoned for duplex type units. 2) existing associations could likely not be modified. and finally you have developers such as were on this program with a closed mind who are not going to "fight city hall and make waves".
Will SchroederDec 5, 2011 10:03:56 AM
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