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Thread summary:

US: Selling of agricultural and unincorporated land for residential development, independent stores, relocating close to public transit and infrastructure

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Old 11-05-2006, 11:25 AM
436 posts, read 522,514 times
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'Living in a box'

Just a few thoughts, and no, I'm no socialist, but the more I travel the USA, the more I see rapid growth and change like never before, and not necessarily for the better. First, what really hits me are the changes that immigration (legal & illegal) influxes are creating, and the relocation of retirees and people cashing out from high cost housing areas to moderate cost housing areas, and how these migrations are affecting long time residents.
Secondly, there is the selling of ranch/agricultural/unincorporated land for residential/custom home development taking place throughout the country at levels unprecedented in recent times. Thirdly, there is this look of sameness (with only variations apparent from community to community in a differing material (brick/metal/cultured stone) surrounding and/or fronting the facade to accommodate the regions 'theme' in signs/store fronts and throw-it-up-quick architecture) to all outlying areas throughout this land what with the corporate big box stores & eateries (fast food and Chili's/Friday's/Applebee's style eateries) almost anywhere a population demographic supports it (build it and they will come in reverse). The independent stores are becoming increasingly rare unless tied to the town tourist trade. A town core of main street, the historic square, and the older housing stock around them may vaguely maintain the town identity, but people increasingly live and commute from further and further away in outlying areas from their newer town homes, apartments, and 'branded' developer single family dwellings. All this clarifies again our absolute dependence upon fossil fuels. Everywhere you go American roads are in a constant state of repair/widening/rerouting. In talking to people across the US, Americans are increasingly unsettled by a sense that there is a loss of community cohesiveness - that with which to identify ones past and present with.
I find it interesting that there is a small, but growing desire of Americans seeking to relocate to places with older, established infrastructures and good public transit - hence a renewed appreciation for living in a walkable community be it city or town.
Don't get me wrong, there is still much wide open space in this great country as anyone who travels a lot knows, but as you look out your window speeding by in your rush to get somewhere else, does the thought cross your mind, "Who owns all this land?" Such thoughts must stir in the minds of a people living in a time where things are changing so fast, and where the people have lived to see the open land space of their memories razed and developed for parking lots and buy-more-stuff stores, these changes must mentally alter our sense of time, space, place and permanence. Why do residents so value their communities historic structures - what do they provide us that a modern life of shopping and distraction can't?
How about the people who support a community? For all the grumbling about affordable housing, firefighters and teachers unable to live in the community they work, etc. etc., it's become obvious that there is an incredible amount of wealth everywhere, and the line of demarcation between the have's and the have-not's (and the have-not's who try to emulate the have's hence the popularity of underutilized designer remodels - kitchens, home theaters, ect.) has never been more apparent. How ironic that many communities consider worker subsidizes, or must consider building 'worker' housing. What is happening to our communities? Could the explosion in large custom homes, and the acquisition of large land holdings for non-agricultural use by private citizens be partly due to the year after year of favorable tax breaks for the wealthiest citizens? I've read that Americans visiting our State and Federal parks is at all time lows. Foreign visitors are increasingly visiting our parks (favorable currency exchange part of it no doubt), but why the native drop in attendance? Could it be that both spouses work, work, work to scrape by with all the costs involved in survival? It seems it's either feast of famine in America. Then again, I wonder how many 'both spouses work' families spend their off-hours buying more junk at the big box stores instead of saving to travel and see America's great open spaces? Americans sure aren't saving much for retirement, the savings rate in the US is shrinking, and is the lowest for a major developed nation. Folks might as well travel and see our great land 'fore it shrinks more too.

Last edited by brian_2; 11-05-2006 at 12:52 PM..
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Old 11-05-2006, 12:50 PM
Location: Perth, Western Australia
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I've read your entire post and most of those changes is saddening to some extent for me.

It's interesting that you mention "...it's obvious there's become an incredible amount of wealth everywhere..." I never thought of it that way; so far I've only noticed what absenses there's been. I suppose what I figured is that people are more willing to get themselves further into debt to buy these McMansions and house flipping; I never crossed my mind that there might be a lot more wealthier people nowadays.

Honestly, I'd rather live in a nice moderate-sized house on a large lot, than a McMansion or flipped house, complete with granite kitchen countertops and gold toilets on a postage stamp-sized modern lot, even if either type of house was given to me as a gift.
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Old 11-05-2006, 12:51 PM
Location: on an island
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Could the explosion in large custom homes, and the acquisition of large land holdings for non-agricultural use by private citizens be partly due to the year after year of favorable tax breaks for the wealthiest citizens?
Yes! It could indeed.
But don't pay any attention. Just turn on the TV and kill a few more brain cells.
Or better yet, get in your car, drive down to the mall, and make some more "money-saving" purchases.


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Old 11-05-2006, 12:56 PM
Location: on an island
13,382 posts, read 40,906,509 times
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One thing that is actually *encouraging* to me is the New Urbanist movement.
Urbanist developments started out as tiny elitist oasises for the wealthy (Seaside, Florida), but now mixed use affordable communities are springing up in redevelopment spots all over the country.
It's a start.
My other dream is that we could somehow rejuvenate our railway system.
It could mean jobs, it could mean fewer cars. I know, it's just a dream.
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Old 11-05-2006, 01:17 PM
Location: Springfield, Missouri
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It doesn't seem that different to me actually. It reminds me a bit of the 1970's with the sprawl, in/out restaurants everywhere, etc. What I think is different now is that while the government (Republicans) are telling us that the economy is so great and how prosperous we are, most of America isn't feeling it. About 40 million (up from 26 million a few years ago) are no longer covered by private medical insurance through their jobs. So if something happens to us, we either go into tremendous life-long debt or lose everything we have. Tens of millions of Americans are financially hemorraging owning homes where their ARM mortgages (recommended by Alan Greenspan if you remember...) are jumping up to the higher rates, the values of the houses are coming down, and they're stuck paying for what they now can't afford and they can't move if the house is now valued less than the mortgage (housing market crashing). I looked up the house I sold last June in Las Vegas for $410,000. It's gone from $423,000 after I sold it in value to $387,000. Imagine if you purchased it with no down and 100% financing..?.(like most people do nowadays). You'd be in an underwater mortgage and have to pay $23,000 out of your own pocket, plus the realtor fees, to pay back the difference owed to the bank if you sold it. Yet the county appraises it for tax purposes at the highest 2005 peak. In other words, you're screwed. There's a pervasive feeling that the government refuses to acknowledge public opinion and restrict our freedoms, much along the lines of when Richard Nixon was President. I read one MSNBC poll and 88% of Americans want Donald Rumsfeld fired. The president ignores the political reality. We are overwhelmed in foreign products, losing what's left of our manufacturing base, 9 Trillion dollars in debt which can never be repaid and our government has spent over 1/3 of a trillion $ on the war in Iraq when Americans can't get insurance and companies are increasingly moving offshore. The government sends spokesmen onto the weekend week-in-review talk shows and discussion groups to trumpet that our unemployment rate is the lowest in five years. Yet they fail to mention that most of these jobs are part-time and low wage service jobs that offer no benefits. America is in terrible shape, yet we're told this is an economic golden age. Go figure.
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Old 11-05-2006, 09:11 PM
Location: In exile, plotting my coup
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I totally agree about the homogenizing of America. It seems as if there's so little character anymore in communities. Minus subtle differences in weather and landscape, the suburbs, exurbs, and increasingly cities and small towns, are interchangeable. There's the same style of housing, the same architecture, the same generic big box stores, the same chain restaurants and so forth, and it's just sprawling outward at a mile a minute and in an irresonpsible fashion with little attention paid toward efficient land use and local infrastructure.

I'm a neo-urbanist and am happy that the movement is taking off a bit. It's interesting that it seems to be starting with retirees first, wanting to live in high-density walkable communities, and then slowly trickling down to the rest of the population. I just hope that they figure out a way to open the possibility of living in those communities to people of various income levels seeing as how what I've seen, the newer communities tend to be fairly high-end.
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Old 11-05-2006, 09:41 PM
Location: Denver
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So are we heading for another "Great Depression" event ?
Obviously we can not continue down this road forever.
Some sort of MAJOR adjustment seems inevitable.
The real question is how do we respond this time.

While I am doomin and gloomin, is there any other
country on the planet that is as susceptible to natural
disasters as us ?

Please excuse my mood as the Bumblin Bears have bummed
me big time...
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Old 11-06-2006, 06:11 AM
Location: Haddington, E. Lothian, Scotland
752 posts, read 619,586 times
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This is an interesting post because it really does capture my thoughts every time I come back to the States. The homogenization of the landscape by subdivisions & big-box shops is glaringly obvious when you only get a snapshot of the US once a year. It's a creeping phenomenon that may be barely noticeable to those living there, but from the perspective of someone who once lived there it looks like the Borg is chewing up the landscape acre by acre.

The other very obvious thing one notices after living abroad is the percentage of people who are morbidly overweight. To an outsider it really is shocking. The fact that everything in America today is designed to be accessible only by V-8 powered wheelchair may contribute strongly to this trend.

Where I live in the UK I take a bus to work and walk to all the shops. I maintain a healthy weight and don't have to do a speck of extra excercise. Just living in a walkable place is enough. That's a diet that America could do well with.
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Old 11-06-2006, 06:16 AM
Location: Thumb of Michigan
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Just want to offer friendly advice while on the subject...there's a good book called Crabgrass Frontier, The Suburbanization of the United States by Kenneth T. Jackson.

It relates to alot of what has been mentioned on this thread!
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Old 11-06-2006, 07:50 AM
436 posts, read 522,514 times
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Thanks BlueGrassFever for the book reference.

FYI FistFightingHairdresser, there have been recent media stories in the US about the expanding waistlines in the UK too.

I agree with your comments, which of course are true. The big change I've seen in the US the past 15/20 or so years that rankles me most has been the shift from smaller vehicles to hulking trucks and/or truck-based monstrosities. The use of these trucks (in the past and now) by those in the construction trades/agriculture/ranching/etc. where they are a near necessity makes sense, but it's the use of these low MPG beasts by people who just want to feel extra safe and cocooned, sit high above others to salve their easily wounded egos, who roar around in a noisy blast of wall and window piercing sound in a cloud of diesel plumes that kill me. First, we had the loud drone of gas-powered blowers to contend with, now for too many years we have added the roar of the oversize truck to the noise and soul wrenching mix. Peace and quiet is a rare commodity in American neighborhoods in many areas of the country, and only the very fortunate minority can afford the land buffers to escape the increasing intrusion of needless racket. Why do so many think only of themselves without a regard to their neighbors well being? In manu US communities, it appears we are living in a age where it's all about the 'me', and not the 'us'. In tract home developments (and most other residential locations), it is impossible to escape the comings and goings of the shrill accelerating sound of the big truck on its allotted errands, and it has become ubiquitous in American neighborhoods the fat trucks unsettling roar.

All this waste and noise to move oneself (usually one occupant) between one down the street buy-more-junk errand to another buy-more-junk errand. There is a comparable relationship to the oversize trucks and the oversize people (more often than not) waddling down from their perches to the pavement.

What fascinates me in the US is how this subject is not discussed in the media, or spoken about much in public conversation. I guess people figure why discuss what can't be changed, for if there's one hot button that touches people in the US, it is challenging their 'freedom(s)', so unless you want the obligatory dressing down of, "I've got the god given right to buy what I want, so back off buddy, you better hold your tongue."

For better and worse, America epitomizes the consumer nation like never before, and the credit card and the double sized parking spaces are its gods. This gas guzzling nation is run by oil boys who must view the big guzzlers as oversize slot machines that pay off only to the house, and whose winnings only go to support the operators.

Last edited by brian_2; 11-06-2006 at 09:19 AM..
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