Tuesday, November 29, 2005

The McMansioning of America

Over the Thanksgiving holidays my wife and I went for a walk to Picker Field. This is a meadow that once was deep in the nearby woods, where years ago villagers held community outings on the 4th of July and Labor Day. These events had been discontinued by the time we moved to town -- thirty or forty years ago -- but the meadow was still a favorite walking destination for kids and adults.

Today, the meadow is almost gone, colonized by cedars and white pines. So is the former isolation. Only yards away from what used to be a sweet and silent place there is a new development of giant family homes.

And I do mean giant. These houses must have at least 5000 square feet of space, including the mandatory three-car garages. Lined up on the sides facing the woods are banks of air conditioners. God knows how much fuel it must take to heat and cool one of these palaces and keep the multiple SUVs on the road.

Rich folks have always had big houses. In our town the Ames family built a half-dozen mansions a century ago, on huge tracts of land that have now mostly come into the public domain as public open space. The family was a generous benefactor to the town, contributing public buildings, schools and parks.

The new McMansions are as big as anything the Ames put up, but they sit side by side in what would otherwise be a typical suburban development. Their half-acre plots will never add to the town's green space. I wonder if the people who live in these houses are interested in schools or parks. Certainly, we saw not the slightest evidence on our walk that anyone from the neighborhood is using the town woods or Picker Field for recreation. With all that space indoors, why go out?

What does this have to do with science? More tomorrow.