Wednesday, December 14, 2011


So if you follow any of my link dumps/roundups you may have noticed a bunch of architecture and design related stories. I'm a bit of a hippie and I try as much as I can to follow the latest in sustainability and live world-well beyond the bike. I also volunteer with the Dallas Architecture Forum (get this: I get free food, free wine, free admission into the lectures and a badass free calendar folio)

Last night there was a panel discussion on sustainability and downsizing. Not downsizing as in firing, downsizing as in people swapping out big spaces for little spaces. Now one of the panelists did bring up that he's doing the most sustainable thing he can think of by not moving (after all, the greenest brick is the one already in the wall) but there is in general movement towards smaller, more efficient homes.

There are a lot of reasons for this. One is the economy. As fuel costs go up and income goes down, it is harder and harder both to power large suburban homes and fuel the cars it takes to get to them. Two, as children move out, Baby Boomers are finding themselves with empty nests and more space than they really know what to do with. Three, Millenials are seeing a car as less a necessity and more a luxury and moving into spaces that don't require them. And four, well, this whole environmental thing is actually starting to click with people.

Now, this panel was preaching to the choir. A quick survey showed that nearly every single one of us lived in 2,500 sq ft or less (I personally share about 900 with a roommate and we are never in each other's space). So what they were saying we were already eating up. But I did learn some more points I'd never thought of before.

One was the ingrained policies for homeowners—namely, that a mortgage is tax deductible whereas rent is not. Granted, this is still applicable for those who buy condos or apartments, but typically this is government using legislation to promote a lifestyle, that of the homeowner. Just sayin'.

Second, and much more significant, was the importance of public space. As a friend pointed out to me today, so much of the pub culture in the UK is driven by the small living space. The pubs (or parks, or any public space really) become an extension of the living space and encourage social gathering and a sense of community. It is that sense of community and shared responsibility that can help keep these public spaces clean and welcoming and drive their continued use.

And a slightly disconcerting statistic? While the average size of the American family has gone down (2.7 kids to 2.4) in the last 50 years, the average size of the American house has doubled (1,400 sq ft to 2,800 sq ft).

My brain made a little jump, as it is wont to do, and connected a similar rise in childhood obesity. In these larger homes, a child has the space to go and do something—anything—without ever leaving the interior of the home. Perhaps it's a larger personal room or a game room or another corner of a larger living room, kids can just stay indoors.

Is it possible that the rise of downsizing and public spaces could reverse the trends in childhood obesity? It'd be worth a look.


  1. And here I thought my big house was in order to hold all the extra bikes and stuff related to same! Who SAYS that architects have nothing of value to offer engineers?

  2. Another factor that you almost got to is that the average volume of an American has increased about half a cubic foot (= 25 pounds in weight) since 1960. All that blubber has to live somewhere! Also as butts get wider, doors have to get wider, and the house must be enlarged to stay proportionate to the doors.

  3. Nice post. There are additional factors that could be attributed to the rise in obesity. 50 years ago most meals were prepared by a mother who did not work, and who's focus was raising children which includes meal planning and preparation. This was long before the microwave became one of the most utilized appliances in the household. The number of times a family eats out or the volume of junk/fast food consumed by kids/adults has increased dramatically over the last 50 years. Obviously kids didn't sit around playing X-box while downing Ho-Hos all day back then either.