MSN has an article up at the moment about today's suburbs becoming tomorrow's slums. It's kind of an odd piece -- if the traditional buyers of those tract mansions give up on them because costs of commuting get to be too high, or the owners decide to downsize as they get older, why on earth would today's urban poor move out to the fringes of Cobb County (to use an Atlanta area example) to turn those McMansions into multi-family housing? They could afford the commute even less, and would have absolutely no reason to move that far away from where all the jobs are. Seems like a far more likely fate as the population of the urban cores climbs again would be for the McMansions to simply moulder there abandoned indefinitely, the 21st century equivalent of the abandoned houses from the 20th century that a person sees now when driving in rural areas. Society changed, and no one needed those houses, either out on what used to be a farm or in the small towns that have shrunk over time, and owners eventually just abandoned them to collapse on their own.
I've actually been thinking about something similar in a vague way lately. I watch a lot of HGTV. I know. It's a sickness, but at least it's a fairly benign one. One of the shows I watch a lot is "House Hunters." And one thing I've noticed over and over and over is that 99% of the househunters want brand-new construction. They want to move into a place where the paint is still wet and nothing's been used. At all. They want to be the first persons to slide a bottle of overpriced merlot into the pretentious wine rack in the kitchen (which is almost always located in the worst possible place for storing wine, someplace hot and bright, but that's a digression), the first persons to use the ostentatious multi-head shower that's big enough to service a high school football team, the first persons to discover that they've just spent way too much money on a house that has so many rooms they'll never use half of them. . . Once in awhile there's an exception, but not often.
Well, one thing that hit me is that every single one of those househunters also talks about re-sale value a few years down the road. Apparently it hasn't occurred to them to ask that if they're not interested in buying a "used" house, why should they expect anyone else to be? If a house from the 1990s seems too dated and too old, how is a house from 2009 going to come across to buyers ten years from now? I can see it now: "OMG. All that stainless steel. That's so passe. And those hideous granite counter tops. . . they're going to have to go. And this shower? What was the builder thinking? Hadn't they ever heard of water conservation?!"
I used to think mobile homes, trailer parks, were the ultimate in disposable housing. Maybe not. Maybe the real disposable housing is sitting out in the high dollar 'burbs, but that just hasn't become obvious yet.
[Photo is from a small town in western Kansas somewhere between Fort Larned and Fort Hays. We could tell that at one time it had been a fairly prosperous little farming community that covered the equivalent of 12 blocks or so and had had a commercial strip several blocks long. When we drove through in 2006 there was no longer a single business open, nothing. The residential area was still looking lived in, but we all knew that wasn't going to last much longer.]