Saturday, March 26, 2005

The Societal Effects of Architecture's Bastardization

During recent trips to visit my family in the suburbs of Chicago, I have left very disturbed by the bastardization of fine residential architecture that is happening all over the place up there. My childhood neighborhood had family-sized (i.e. not mansions, but plenty of space), older (1920s-1940s), one-of-a-kind homes, most of which had decent-sized yards. Sounds perfect to me now, as a relatively new homeowner. However, people are buying these homes in the already over-priced suburban Chicago real estate market, tearing them down, and building McMansions (thank you for that term, Cousin Ellen) which neither fit into the size of the lots nor into the character of the neighborhoods.

It's sick.

And it makes me nervous, I suppose because it feels like I'm entering a community where the residents will never be satisfied with anything. They need to improve upon something that is already inherently "perfect" (well, not my idea of perfect, but perfect in the general sense). It's almost like they need to prove to the world that they can a) afford to buy a house there and b) make a statement by ripping down a beautiful older home and leaving their mark. I equate it to Chester's incessant need to mark every tree or shrub outside by peeing on it.


I don't know: there is just something very disturbing about driving down a residential street I have known all my life and no longer recognizing a good number of the homes. It just doesn't seem right. I mean, a renovation here, a new paint job there, some new plantings or a new fence...these are changes I'd expect to see in neighborhoods over time. But entirely new buildings that change the character of a TOWN?? Doesn't seem possible to me. Several years ago my now late father was elected a village trustee there because he knew the town backward and forward; today I think he probably wouldn't recognize the place.

My mother moved to a smaller ranch house in another suburb very near where I grew up. Her neighborhood has both ranches or 1960s split-level homes. It's a very nice, and relatively affordable, neighborhood with good schools, etc....a place that many people would like to live. Next door to my mom's place stood a home that was the mirror-image of hers. An older couple lived there, and they moved away last year. The home needed some updating, but in general it was in good shape as a smallish, sturdy, brick ranch home. Well, a realtor bought at a reduced price after telling the sellers it was for her daughter, supposedly a single mom living in the city. The realtor proceeded to tear it down and build a large two-and-a-half story house with a 3-car garage, and she is now attempting to sell it for about three times what she paid for the old house. Hmm...where's the daughter/single mom going to live?? She probably couldn't afford to purchase the home HER MOTHER decided to build.

How does this realtor sleep at night with such a warped sense of ethics? What's happening to our society if people who essentially have 'everything' are so dissatisfied with idyllic suburbia that they have to rip down decent homes and start over? Can people in the United States ever be satisfied with the good things they have?


lemming said...

Brilliant Rob, and exactly right.

What I really dislike about those houses, in addition to all of the other points you raise, is that it's posible to be inside and not know where the rest of the family might be. I don't need to kow if Sam is napping in the living room or the bedroom, but I'll hear him if he gets up or barks. I don't think this would hapen in the houses you describe - how to families hear their children? Know what's going on? Further deterioration of the American family...

Joe said...

How does this realtor sleep at night with such a warped sense of ethics?

You could fit all the ethics of 10 realtors in a gnat's navel, and still have room for an agent's heart.

That's not completely true. We worked with one Realtor in the D.C. area who was a stand-up guy. And I met a lot of others who I can't prove have no soul.

But I've met some doozies too...

Rob's Mom said...

I do agree with you...but after awhile, one, or at least, I, have become more focused on what our family loved about living on the North Shore and on the things that are constants... Walking to the lake is still possible, and its beautiful; walking to a great library, the post office, shops in the “uptown” areas (though limited, but still okay for drugstore, groceries, and small eating places.); and beautiful parks and public services. The character and make up of the community have definitely changed and I would not choose or, could not choose because of the costs, to raise our family there. But many of our friends are still there and the sense of comfort from the "constants" and also from the intangibles, the gut feelings, are what makes me still have a desire to be back there. Dad's name as a Village Trustee is on a plaque in Village Hall and on one in the park near “uptown.”
Those are warm fuzzies for me and it says that our family lived here and we made a contribution to the community. Those are the intangibles that block out the sad feelings I have for the architectural bastardizations that you so well described.