SOC208 2019 Tut 6 Mon 1130 – The McMansion – the small idea with the big cost

Australian houses are very big. Since overtaking the US in the 1990s, Australian house sizes have consistently outpaced those of every other country: in 2009, one average Australian house (214m2) could fit almost three average UK houses (76m2) inside of it. Whilst we may have been recently overtaken by the US, and now have only the second-largest houses in the world, over-sized houses – rather than large lot-sizes – have become characteristic of Australian suburbia. The rise of the big, multi-roomed house in Australia – or the ‘McMansion’ to use the American term – has changed the landscape of our suburbs, and the quality of suburban family life.

McMansions are not just maligned for their size, as US sociologist Brian Miller notes in reviewing McMansion descriptions in the popular US media. Miller finds that since the term became popularised in the 1990s, it has been commonly used to imply three additional criticisms beyond simply large dimensions. First, the relative size of the house matters. Replacing a ‘teardown’ with a house disproportionately bigger than those around it “appears to dwarf its land footprint,” and can ruin an existing community’s character, devalue older homes, and simply look wrong “like steroid-stoked biceps on a skinny teen.” Second, McMansions are characterised as aesthetically ugly. On the one hand they are criticised for too little diversity when they are churned out as standardised mass-produced housing: “Instead of stimulating your imagination, the typical McMansion simply deadens your senses.” On the other, they are criticised for too much diversity when the architectural styles on a given street, or even on a single house, are haphazard, incoherent, and jumbled: “Because of its architectural pastiche, the McMansion can be seen as not being “authentic” or is viewed as a caricature.” Third, they are seen as a symbol for more complex issues, including urban sprawl, status-seeking, and excessive consumption. When linked to the proliferation of mega shopping malls, fast-food restaurants, and big cars, their excessiveness has been equated to fast-food: “These stores offer the gastronomic equivalent of McMansions, and show our kids that wasting food (and blowing cash) is all part of family fun.”

This last quality in particular raises the issue of how McMansions change the social landscape: as one of Miller’s paper’s quips: “The McMansion is both pretentious and isolated, an island in a sea of strangers and cars.” Is the rise of such big houses reflecting a desire for private space in an increasingly paranoid suburbia? As captured in the recent ABC documentary ‘Streets of your Town’, voluminous houses now serve as place for our kids to play ‘safely’ inside rather than on the street. Decks and pizza ovens are replacing grassy backyards, traditionally oriented to gardening and child play, and are increasingly used for entertaining select friends privately at home (rather than having to meet our neighbours publicly in the street). And an increasing number of people, particularly retirees, live in gated communities. Jacek Tittenbrun notes that gated communities now comprise 1/3 of all housing construction in the US, and house 1/6 of the US population. And with these private houses comes an upsurge in private security guards that in some instances – in deals with local governments and businesses – serve as private armies patrolling public as well as private spaces, and targeting not just criminals, but homeless and creative people with aggressive action.

The pursuit of bigger, more private houses in Australia has almost certainly impacted on housing affordability. With still extremely high despite recent declines in prices, and housing debt at extreme levels, a report by Jean-Frances Kelly of the Grattan Institute shows that younger people are less likely to own a home than at any time in the last twenty years. At the same time, the proportion of renters in Australia is rising, though legal protections for Australian renters are amongst the most basic of any OECD countries.

It seems a large gap is opening up between the older owners of the large McMansions on the city fringes, and the younger renters clustered in the inner city, working to save an increasingly unrealistic deposit for the most basic of houses. The Grattan Institute report identifies that house size IS a factor in unaffordability in advocating (amongst a host of other changes) for the replacement of stamp duty with land taxThey argue that the former policy encourages people to buy big and then never downsize, while the latter encourages people to use the space they have, or else move without penalty.

Maybe its time for big ideas about thinking small?

S208UOW19 #Tut6 #Mon1130

Posted in SOC208 - Cities, Communities and Families, UOW.

5 Comments on SOC208 2019 Tut 6 Mon 1130 – The McMansion – the small idea with the big cost

Yasmin Latif said : Guest Report 3 weeks ago

Mcmansions are slowly taking over which is a major concern for future generations. In the essential reading for the week Mcmansions are described as “New neighbourhoods may not resembled old admired ones.” As many of these Mcmansions look extremely similar. Benjamin Ross states that suburban sprawl is “spreading like cancer” which is not sustainable for future generations as it is becoming extremely difficult for the younger generation to become household owner as it extremely costly and with the continuous development of these Mcmansions it is only going to become more expensive. These Mcmansions are continuing to spread out across suburban areas while apartment buildings are becoming more prominent in cities as they seen as more beneficial with the flow of the city lifestyle and environment.

Nadia Ciccolella said : Guest Report 3 weeks ago

In the essential reading for this week suburban sprawl is presented as a quiet problematic issue for the future. Suburbia in fact creates a very unsustainable future that can include many ramifications. As Benjamin Ross says in his reading, suburban sprawl is “spreading like cancer” and it is a way of life that we can’t afford anymore as our house sizes are increasing so are it’s prices making it a struggle for younger generations to become household owners. It is an extremely costly process and according to Brian Miller in regards to the McMansions that it is a symbol of consumption and greed. However on the other end of the spectrum there have been initiatives to help focus on the development of denser cities and as a result stalling suburban sprawl. This type of agenda includes sustainable transport options available in these denser cities to reduce traffic and greenhouse gasses. In Peter Newman’s blog he mentions that in order to create a sustainable future a city needs to monitor and reduce its ecological footprint and enhance it’s livability of the city in order to manage the growth of cars and transport. It is clear how McMansions and bigger houses have detrimental impacts on our future and that denser cities and apartment living are more beneficial.

Nadia Ciccolella said : Guest Report 3 weeks ago

In the essential reading for this week suburban sprawl is presented as a quiet problematic issue for the future. Suburbia in fact creates a very unsustainable future that can include many ramifications. As Benjamin Ross says in his reading, suburban sprawl is “spreading like cancer” and it is a way of life that we can’t afford anymore as our house sizes are increasing so are it’s prices making it a struggle for younger generations to become household owners. It is an extremely costly process and according to Brian Miller in regards to the McMansions that it is a symbol of consumption and greed. However on the other end of the spectrum there have been initiatives to help focus on the development of denser cities and as a result stalling suburban sprawl. This type of agenda includes sustainable transport options available in these denser cities to reduce traffic and greenhouse gasses. In Peter Newman’s blog he mentions that in order to create a sustainable future a city needs to monitor and reduce its ecological footprint and enhance it’s livability of the city in order to manage the growth of cars and transport. It is clear how McMansions and bigger houses have detrimental impacts on our future and that denser cities and apartment living are more beneficial.

rhiannon mackie said : Guest Report 3 weeks ago

It's really a shame that Mcmansions are taking over, and houses in general with decks and pools, no grassy areas to put up a swing set or play on. In the reading by Brian Miller, he talks about Mcmansions being a symbol for consumption and greed, this is exactly how i view massive houses. I think its unnecessary to have more rooms then you actually use, just sitting there being wasted.

Madeleine Wiersma said : Guest Report 3 weeks ago

Suburbia and the sprawl of suburbia is not sustainable for the future, and as pointed out in the essential reading, cities such as Sydney and Melbourne have implemented plans to stall the spread of new housing developments and focus on more dense living in cities. “the suburban sprawl . . . is an indulgence we can no longer afford, either economically or environmentally.” (pg. 27). The suburb was designed to be a place of refuge away from the dirty city, but with it becoming increasingly costly to sprawl into the suburbs, it is no longer sustainable to live in such a way for future generations. Houses are also becoming bigger, which increases the cost of building, maintaining, and buying houses. With bigger houses on the same size blocks as before, it means there is less backyard and grass. The future of housing will have to steer away from these big houses in order to accommodate the growing population and to reconsolidate more practical housing in the city.

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