Thursday, September 25, 2014

Traditional vs. McMansion

This is the old, traditional New England house: Small front yard, perhaps 20 feet, at most, set back from a sidewalk; probably some turf grass and likely one or more big shade trees (sugar maple, sycamore, etc.); and a driveway (likely a dirt-and-gravel affair) leading around to the rear of the house and a one-car garage or carport; a bigger yard out back where the first family’s children played.
The modern, sprawl version: A McMansion (ranchette) set way back from a street capable of sustaining three lanes of traffic if need be, likely 50 or more feet back from the curb/sidewalk (if there’s one at all); a three-car garage that dominates the street view and takes up roughly half of the house’s frontal appearance; a two-lane driveway filled with cars, at least one of which is parked so as to block the sidewalk; lots and lots of turf grass, the boundary of which is marked by a little white flag left behind by the chemical fertilizer applicator; a parade of small shrubs stuck in the clay-like soil around the foundation (nearly all of them exotic species like, e.g., Japanese yew, Japanese barberry, mugo pine; and one shade tree, likely a Norway maple (another invasive, alien species) whose trunk is buried beneath a mulch volcano of dyed-red bark mulch.
That’s a quick look, for sure. But the one thing that stands out when considering the modern, trophy home is this: The way in which cars are treated as royalty, even to the point of giving them a luxury bedroom (aka the garage).
More often than not, the “modern” home is at least a mile (likely much more) from the nearest retail store and likely even further from any grocery. The paltry walkability of such houses is easy to determine: Click on, type in a given address and click again to get the walk “score” for that address.
My own home – a condo, actually – in sprawl-happy Williston has a weak score of 38. That means it is a hike (a real hike) to reach the nearest super-duper market and all the other necessities of daily life (except the local gas station, which is only a quarter-mile away).
What this all means, in the end, is this: Nearly all errands require a car, and that means more pollution, more personal income devoted to caring the automobile (i.e., fuel, insurance, an occasional wash; some detailing perhaps; annual registration; tags and safety inspection, . . .
The car-centric society of which the modern house is a flag-bearer means paving over Wild Nature. I’m reminded of a trailside sign at Bande
lier National Monument, N.M., which carries this headline: “How Much is Enough?”
How much “growth” is enough? Has enough land been set aside to preserve our natural heritage, the diversity of life we are all dependent on?

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