Robert Samuelson writes about the dangerous trend toward larger and larger homes. “By and large,” he says, “the new American home is a residential SUV. It’s big, gadget-loaded and slightly gaudy.” Encouraged by tax breaks for mortgages, American families are buying larger and larger homes even as the prices soar.
To an individual family, each new room surely seems like a great addition. My house growing up, which my parents designed, had a small entry area. But as my brother and I were growing up, the number of shoes and coats quickly overwhelmed the available space. And the lack of a mud room created extra cleaning work when we would track snow into the kitchen before shedding our boots and coats.
One new trend in homes is the home theater room. Originally our house had a “great room”, where the kitchen, dining room, and family room were all open to each other. It’s great for a houseparent to keep an eye on the kids while doing something in the kitchen. But with more and more time spent watching TV and home movies, and the availability of great home theater sound equipment hastening the trend away from watching movies in theaters and toward home theater, an entire room devoted to the purpose becomes necessary.
This is one piece of a larger trend away from community in suburbia. When my dad was growing up in Lynbrook the kids would play hockey in the streets. Today kids are more likely to have their moms drive them five miles to a friend’s house and spend the afternoon watching a movie in the home theater. Americans need larger houses because they are spending more time in their houses and less time in community spaces; meanwhile, the amount of community space is decreasing rapidly, and most new exurban developments allocate scarce if any space to community uses. We end up with a vicious cycle of fewer alternatives to home activities leading to more home activities, decreasing the demand for alternatives.