Home, Sweet Home

Home Is Where The Heart LiesWhere should we live?

If chosen by majority desire, we should live in houses that look very much like all the houses in all of suburban Los Angeles.

A survey by the Public Policy Institute of California suggests a vast preference (70%) for detached housing among the state's consumers. This continuing preference is demonstrated by detached housing prices that are generally two times historic norms relative to incomes in the coastal metropolitan areas (Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego and San Jose). - From the website New Geography

If chosen by the desires of urban planners, more of us should live in units stacked up closely.

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We can't have affordable housing without increases in density; we understand that. We can't achieve a lot of our social goals without density.
One of our challenges as planners and designers is to make sure that density is appropriately designed and integrated into communities and is done in a thoughtful manner. That way we can make sure that it's going to do the job that it's supposed to do. One of the signs of vitality in a community is congestion. We know that if we didn't have congestion, it is not a sign of a vibrant community. It's kind of counter-intuitive, but this gets around that very same concept. That's one of the signs of a truly vital community - a dense urban experience. - From The Planning Report website

Presumably, people always prefer "a truly vital community," although it's unclear if people are willing to accept "congestion" as the way to get it.

If there is an intrinsic pent-up preference . . . , it is not evident in the poor performance of high-density developments even in such theoretically desirable places as Santa Monica, San Francisco, Oakland, San Jose and North Hollywood. Condominium prices, for example, have fallen 52 percent in the major California metropolitan areas, compared to 48 percent for single-family houses. Naïve developers, relying too much on the much promoted notion that suburban empty-nesters were chomping at the bit to move to new housing in the core area, often watched their empty units liquidated at $0.50 or less on the dollar or turned into rentals. Further, if people are moving to apartments, it's not for love of density but more likely due weakening economic circumstances. - From the website New Geography

The contrasting desires of people and planners confound the decisions that developers make, leading in recent years to significant swings in home construction.

The trends in the building permit data are not completely clear. In 2005, the year before prices started to collapse, 75 percent of building permits in California were for detached housing. This trended downward, reaching a low of 52 percent in 2008. In 2009, the detached housing recovered to account for 73 percent of all housing building permits. Then the figure fell back to 59 percent in 2010. - From the website New Geography

What should we call home?

It could be a small house on a small lot, like mine, but in a distant, "greenfield" suburb at the farthest margin of Los Angeles. It could be an apartment block above a train station on a congested street.

Right now, it's hard to tell.

D. J. Waldie, author, historian, and as the New York Times said in 2007, "a gorgeous distiller of architectural and social history," writes about Los Angeles every Monday and Friday at 2 p.m. on KCET's SoCal Focus blog.

The images on this page were taken by flickr user Mary Hamilton. They are used under a Creative Commons License.

About the Author

D. J. Waldie is the author of "Holy Land: A Suburban Memoir" and "Where We Are Now: Notes from Los Angeles." He is a contributing editor for the Los Angeles Times.
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