Saturday, September 16, 2006

A World Without Shanties

Wow, so much to talk about...

Topics I'll try to tackle in the coming months (in no particular order):

Architecture News
- potpourri of all things architecture related.

Like check out this fabulous wood viewing perch structure in the small town of Aurland, Norway. (photo, above left) The Aurland Look-Out, designed by Architects Todd Sanders (Canada) and Tommie Wilhelmsen (Norway). A marvelous example of great design & engineering. Visit the sites for more photos.

Great Design Finds
- this might include fabulous industrial design, a great new building/structure; a product or innovation; things that might make life easier; and fun stuff. If you know of a great find, send me a note !

Hideous House of the Month
(a.k.a. Latest Real Estate Scam of the Month, or Over Priced Building of the Month) - self explanatory. Something that's new(er), that's poorly built or is unsafe. Basically, this includes something otherwise insulting to the senses.

Feel free to send in/post your recommendations (include a photo). I'll need help compiling this one. Let's learn from mistakes made by others. Since poor taste is something that is prevalent the world over, this blog will never run out of examples and laughs to share.

Which leads me to a secondary topic under this heading: The need for Appraisal/ Real Estate pricing reform. I am always surprised that a significant portion of a house is valued (in our American system) based primarily on its location than the true (current) value of the labor and materials to erect the structure.

It seems to me, there ought to be two prices listed for American real estate:

1) the actual replacement price to build a like structure --should disaster hit, and
2) the cost to be in that location (which includes a social valuation for the size and type of lot). Hmm, maybe if broken out in such a manner, this could lead to all kinds of constitutional challenges. I could be on to something...

I suggest this because, I've seen plenty of buildings that if located in an "urban" area, might only be appraised at $120K. But then place the EXACT same structure in a predominantly white community and the value is three fold. Same shanty, different street. At its core, this seems spectacularly unfair (and ripe with discrimination of all kinds).

Similarly, I'm always baffled by people who pay $300-400K for a small, dilapidated shack in the suburbs.
If people want to pay more to be in a certain location, the real cost should be tied to the location (as a line item identifiable cost)-- not the actual cost to build the structure. [Fat chance getting rich people to buy into this approach.. but I thought I'd put it out there for others to consider..]

Under this system of valuation, you'd have one price for the land (and by inference, its location valuation), and another for your insurance and taxes upon which the structure is to be appraised. Oh no, such an approach might actually lower the premiums paid to the insurance companies and lower your taxes. Rats !

All this to say that the wealthy have hoodwinked & manipulated the working classes for centuries with this perverted western system for real estate valuation. (Hey, our system of laws were devised by land owners -- not the common working man.)

Lies My Contractor Told Me - As an architect, I haven't had a single project where the Contractor hasn't lied about something. Contractors always lie. It must be part of their DNA. Sometimes the lies are small, but annoying just the same. Other times, they were HUGE lies that could have compromised safety (or even destroyed the structure completely).

Basically, I'm talking about contractor nightmare stories. This is the side of construction HGTV and DIY networks don't like to focus on. I will post true construction stories here for all to learn from. Feel free to send me your construction nightmare stories.
Maybe we can get a contest going...(more on that later. But don't post proper names, phone numbers and addresses.. I'll have to delete those so we don't all get sued.) If you want to complain about a contractor, please do so to your local State's Attorney, Better Business Bureau and to Angie's List. Let's avoid lawsuits stemming from this site. )

Chicago & the Big Box Ordinance
- which is really all about working people needing a liveable wage and the lack of affordable housing (the world over). It just so happens that some Chicago Aldermen decided to heap their general discontent with the aforementioned on an easy target: WalMart. Wal-Mart, for many, represents the corporation that most completely represents bad corporate behavior (bad choices, really) when it comes to fair treatment of workers (here and abroad), true diversity (across all job positions), and slave-wage pay scales for product suppliers located outside the USA. ["Slave wages", a true oxymoron.]

See the AFL-CIO's take on Wal-Mart.
The secondary issues (which by no means are unimportant) include: Corporate largesse-- Growing corporate influence, control, wealth & greed; the general lack of US corporations feeling a greater responsibility to the communities and customers who made them profitable; monopolies & corporate consolidation.

Katrina / Gulf Coast ReBuilding Efforts
- Check out's Disaster Profiteering on the American Gulf Coast Fact Sheet. The Federal Response to Katrina: A National-- but predictable disgrace.

Plus, more to come! I've got so much ground to cover.. I can't post everything in the first month. Post your suggestions !

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