Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Little Pink Houses For You And Me

If you close your eyes when you drive by the 2400 square foot shanties, then you'll never know that poor, undesirable people live in Austin, Texas.

I read something yesterday that was quite troubling. It was a true story of an on-going battle between an Austin (TX) based, non-profit business school and some of its residential neighbours. The business school sits on a generous 21 acre parcel of land in the gently rolling, scrubby hills of Austin's outskirts. Some of the neighbours apparently don't appreciate the business school. There has been "hostility, antagonism, harassment and vandalism" directed toward the business school and its founder.

In September 2008 I took a two day workshop at the business school, which goes by the name of Wizard Academy. The workshop was entitled Accelerated Branding. It probably wasn't the best workshop for me to take, but I was captivated by the business school and the manner in which ideas were shared. I'd happily go back. I marvelled at the dry and bushy landscape...so foreign to my own verdant lakeside forest. I also noted the size of the mansions in the Wizard Academy neighbourhood. They were huge and unapologetic.

Oddly enough, there was something in what I read that troubled me even more than the on-going disagreement over land use. I'm pretty used to turf skirmishes, because I live next to a Cambridge-Narrows warlord. Nothing surprises me anymore, in that regard. The global citizen in me was perturbed by what I read, because it spoke of a society where core values had gone awry. Here's what my eyes saw, as written by the founder of the business school...

"We built Denny House - a caretaker’s house with an observation balcony - so that the property might be monitored. Neighborhood restrictions – as with all the lots on that side of Crystal Hills Drive – required us to build no less than 2,800 square feet. Although this was much larger and more expensive than we would have preferred, we built an elegant home to help protect the property values of our neighbors."

I was surprised to learn, however, that you can't build a home on Crystal Springs Drive in Austin that is less than 2800 square feet. That's appalling, embarrassing and downright earth unfriendly.

Of course the undercurrent to that building covenant is that only rich, or well to do people, live there. The business school built the caretaker a 2800 square foot home, though it was wholly unnecessary, as pointed out.

No wonder the world is tanking, because this is the way a small minority of powerful people think. Some members of this minority are likely involved in politics, making decisions about zoning and resource allocation.

It's not just America, folks...I'm sure this happens in the great white north as well. I can understand that people want to live in a place of beauty, architectural or otherwise, but when it comes to houses, big isn't always beautiful. And it sure as hell makes no sense for two, three or four people to live in a 5000 square foot house. Or a 4000 square foot house. Or even a 3000 square foot house. The McMansion is an embarrassment to society.

The owners of these monstrosities would just say that I'm envious because I can't afford one. To them I say 'we can't afford them...we, as society'. There's a relatively new house where my wife grew up that reputedly has seven bathrooms. Unless the Brady Bunch all has to pee, or worse, at the same time, then I can't see the point of wasting resources unnecessarily. I can barely clean one bathroom in my house, if I had seven then I wouldn't have time to write this blog (and that would be a travesty).

John Mellencamp wrote a song about life in America where everyone had a little pink house. It's a nice song. It wouldn't be the same had he been writing about starter castles or Hummer homes. I'll bet most little pink houses are under 2800 square feet. I'll bet that most are under 1500 square feet. There should be a little pink house out there for you and me, even in Austin, Texas.

Oh but ain't that America, for you and me
Ain't that America, somethin' to see baby
Ain't that America, home of the free
Little pink houses for you and me.


  1. The trouble with the rat race is that even if you win, you're still a rat.

    Lily Tomlin

  2. I'd like to see a home builder that refuses to build houses over 2000 square feet, out of respect for the planet. Wouldn't that be something!