Sunday, September 10, 2006

It's A Brave New Shanty World

Welcome to My New Blog...Created on this day, 9/10/2006 because:
a) I have wanted to post architecture/planning/ design/social commentary and info for years, but (like many others) was too lazy/unmotivated/overwhelmed to know when and how to start.
b) because for years, I've been waxing on to my friends, clients and family members on various design, environmental and social issues with preacher-like fervor.

And lastly, c) created because I had some time to kill one Sunday. (This seemed like a moderately better use of my time... or maybe not. Time will tell.)

Anyway, pick whatever lame excuse you want.. I'll have plenty of excuses to try to slip past readers in the coming months and years.
Mostly, I want to discuss and share info related to Architecture, Urban Planning & Design -- perhaps with Socio-economic factors included for context. That allows for a pretty wide ranging discussion.

After 11 years on the internet, with membership in various Usenet groups, I figured I might as well try to spread my Shanty propaganda to a broader audience. (Architects are performers, you know..)  
I predicted various architecture/ construction / housing trends long before all the Johnny come-lately social pundits-- but had only my half-interested friends and family as corroborating parties to my insightful rants and late-night predictions.

Of course, some "predictions" aren't really so insightful. They are there for the taking by anyone with common sense and an understanding of American culture, economics and the human condition. 

For example, take the Go-Go Housing Boom of the 1990s (pre - 9/11/01).
What goes up, must come down.

OK, so that was not that tricky a trend/outcome to predict. However, what many people failed to recognize was that the grossly inflated (over valued, really) housing prices of the last 15 years actually will have a long and destructive impact on not just the real estate/housing & construction industries, but on the long-term economic health of the affected communities and the nation in general. (I will provide more facts to support this thesis in future posts, including links to data, economists, planners and others who share my conclusions on this subject.) 

 Anytime a house built for $180,000 sells for $850,000 (to a couple that earns a total of $110K per year), while real wages remain essentially flat (or decline in some cases), a housing bust has to follow. (That was one of my predictions that I was referring to earlier.)

But how do you convince yuppie dot com stock purchasers who have as-yet to sell high, that what you are saying is true (prior to the dot com stock collapse)? Saying, "I told you so" has such a sore loser, wish I had-your stock options tone to it. You just hope that your friends and family members who spent $400K for a $185K house don't have the need to liquidate/sell when the value goes through the downswing. On the other hand, for a community and a nation to right itself and get back on course, the correction HAS to happen-- even to your friends and family members.

Typical oppositional reply:
"Hey, who cares about that socialist/communist crap, Minister Shanty? I got mines.  It is your problem if you are too stupid to figure out how to get yours. A society that ensures its CITIZENS have decent housing and health care would be too much like the welfare state of the pre-Reagan years, or worse, like a "failed" Cuba or the former Soviet Union."

Answer: Well, no shanty is an island to itself.

The problem w/ the Go-Go Housing boom of the 1990s has more to do w/ the growing income/wealth gap between the upper and the working middle classes, and the lack of affordable housing than not wanting a portfolio to appreciate. We can't all afford to drive BMWs in a capitalist society-- at least not in the present American system, can we?

It's hard out here for a Maryland (or worse, Washington, DC) white collar pimp to buy a $450,000 house (median house price in a decent area) for a family of 2 or more on $75,000/year. Before the recently proposed minuscule raise in the Minimum [slave] Wage, the rate will have remained at $5.15/hour since 1995 -- an outrageously immoral rate (and duration) for a nation as wealthy as the USA.

What do you expect from a nation that built it's public and private wealth largely on slave labor?
It's not What You Make, It's What You Keep -

Sins of Omission: Over last 15 years, the mainstream press, construction & real estate media kept reporting that Housing starts were up, yet failed to notice/report/investigate the corresponding trends affecting household wealth and real earning power for the average American remained largely flat, or declined. Instead, the year 2000 saw a new era in social, national and foreign policy: The Happy Talk Era. If you don't hear bad news, did anything really bad happen (to us or to the nation)? In my region (the Midwest), home foreclosures were at an all time high (per capita). If housing starts increase by 1-3%, while home foreclosure rates double or triple in a region, what really is happening is a (re)distribution of wealth -- not just now, but perhaps for a generation or more. (And don't forget-- the bankruptcy laws were also changed in the last year.)

...but then, as one family member keeps telling me: a substantial portion of Americans are stupid and thus, cannot connect the dots on this nor most any other complex issue. Are we so doomed?

Since one's home/real estate is the primary way (most) Americans build family wealth (and pass it on to successive generations), do laws that shift/change/alter who and how wealth is accumulated affect the long term social fabric of a community, its economy and of a nation? Of course, I say they indeed do-- for the worse.
Yet few (in architecture, planning, finance, government, etc.) seemed willing to actually push an agenda which would serve to avert or quell the affordable housing shortage and the lack of real income growth among the working class and the working poor.

Instead, over the last 15 years, the top 2% of American households increased their net worth, while the American middle-class grew smaller and foreclosures, personal debt and bankruptcies reached an all time high for many Americans in the modern era.

The tragedy of Hurricane Katrina served to expose many social, private sector and governmental policy shortcomings -- at least expose them more plainly to those who have been uninterested and unwilling to look at what has been happening for quite some time. Surely folks who drive imported luxury cars and who live in their suburban starter castles didn't think poverty in America had been eradicated or that all social economic ills can be solved by the introduction of a Starbucks in every neighborhood?

Perhaps this blog will serve to document any future predictions, trends, remedies or concerns-- at least as I see 'em. I'm not a good typist and admit to being a so-so speller and editor.   So, I'll give you a pass on typos, and please extend to me the same courtesy.

I will delete / block spam, racist, hateful and untruthful posts from visitors to as I see fit.

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