By Dom Nozzi
November 19, 2002
Neighborhoods in American communities sometimes see a smaller, more modest, older home removed from a property and replaced by a larger, more extravagant home. This is sometimes referred to as “scrap offs” and pop ups.”
In a city such as Boulder, Colorado, where property values are so high, much of this can be explained by the fact that it is often nonsensical, for a number of reasons, to retain a small, modest house on an extremely expensive piece of property. Why have, say, a thousand square foot home worth $50,000 sitting on a property that is worth $500,000?
But there are other reasons why such home replacements occur in America.
My impression is that around the nation, there is a noticeable growth in scrape offs and pop-ups. I would attribute it largely to a point I make in my published book, The Road to Ruin. That unlike in places like western Europe, the American “public realm” (streets, sidewalks, parks) are the most desolate and miserable in the developed world because Americans have spent over 50 years single-mindedly trying to make cars, not people, happy. And because this is a “zero-sum” game (all “gains” by cars are losses for people not in cars), we have spent over 50 years destroying the quality of life in our public realm. We now have the most miserable public realm in the developed world.
Americans have responded to this by fleeing the public realm. We set buildings back from the now hostile, high-speed street as far as we can. We spend as little time as possible outside (unless we are cocooned in a car). We thereby become increasingly fearful and suspicious of what might lurk in those desolate streets and sidewalks and parks.
Part of our flight from the desolation of the public realm is that we increasingly strive to achieve a PRIVATIZED, inwardly-turning quality of life. Inside the private confines of our homes, we often find pure, unmatched luxury. Plush, expensive furniture. Expensive electronic equipment. Opulent kitchens and bathrooms. Sumptuous car interiors. A growth in the size of our homes.
This turning away from our degraded and neglected suburban, car-happy public realm means that we have chosen to seek out a privatized, isolated, individualized quality of life. Joy in life is to be achieved as individuals or amongst our family inside our McMansions, and not, as has been traditionally the case, out in the community with our neighbors and fellow citizens.
But it is an empty, plastic, financially bankrupting, fleeting pleasure if it is only inside our private world.
The loss of civic pride — the loss of caring about our community — is ultimately catastrophic to our future.
By contrast, a quality public realm is an equal opportunity quality of life, because it is available to all ages, skill levels, income levels, and races. A quality public realm is a COMMUNITY-BUILDING attribute. And it doesn’t require us to go into endless household debt, as does our “need” to buy the latest car, computer, TV, stereo system, or bathroom.
There is growing evidence that Americans are moving in this downwardly-spiraling direction. Purchase of household and auto goods is enormous in scale.
Governments at all levels continue to bankrupt themselves by hopelessly trying to achieve the unachievable: free-flowing happy cars in cities. Making cars happy is an engine for the privatizing, inwardly-turning trend we are in.
I’ve heard this week that there is an observable increase in the size of American homes. Given the above, this is completely predictable. If our quality of life is to be achieved in our homes and cars, it is clear that we’ll be induced to create larger and larger homes (and cars) to expand the size of that private quality.
Which brings me back to scrape offs and pop-ups.
The growing desire to demolish smaller homes and replace them with HUGE McMansions is an obvious symptom of our desire to privatize our quality of life.