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Sprawl, just saying the word brings to mind visions of an endless stream of dated, low-rise strip-malls, trimmed with high-power lines and the only nature to be seen are the wooden telephone poles or cookie-cutter tract homes on twisty-turny roads stretching into mind-numbing tedium.

There is another form of sprawl, one that is very common just beyond the borders of cities and over-grown towns; a rural sprawl, set in bucolic landscapes festooned with “McMansions”.  They sit on just enough land so they cannot hear their neighbor’s toilets flush but could throw them a roll if needed.  The yards between them are manicured and usually devoid of trees, except for the token landscaper’s focal Japanese Maple.  The irony is that as families have grown smaller, the houses have gotten larger.  This situation is the product of too much money and an industry committed to culling as much of it as possible; aided by towns and municipalities very willing to fill their coffers with the taxpayer’s good fortune.  This is not to disparage on the accumulation of wealth, only its ostentatious and needless display.Graph

Rural sprawl is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg as to why we do not need these gargantuan houses.  Just from a sustainability point of view, the resources of material and energy used to build these oversized structures and the infrastructure to connect them to the rest of civilization places a tremendous drain on a regions resources.  In addition, these developments are usually on old farm lands, many miles from stores, entertainment or schools making every errand a car trip.  Towns must also expend resources and manpower for services such as snowplowing and school busses.  The proliferation of these communities can also have a negative long term effect on the ability for younger people to afford to live need their older family members, save to buy their own homes while paying rent and the general isolation these neighborhoods create.

According to US Census data, in 1967, the average family of 3.38 people lived in a house of approximately 1,500 square feet on and annual income of $6,140.00.  This has morphed into a typical family of 2.59 people living in a 2,613 square foot house on $48,415.00 annually. In that 43 year span, there has been a meteoric rise in the expenditure of income to the per person living space.   In 1967, each family member had 444 square feet of living space; by 2010, that has ballooned into 1,009 square feet per person as the average.  The ratio is much greater in the high end, luxury homes.Graph

Reversing this trend will be a monumental undertaking; it will require discipline on everyone’s part.  Homebuyers will have to demand smaller homes, developers and the industry as a whole will have to accept lower profit margins and municipalities will have to actively encourage and zone for denser neighborhoods. Not an easy undertaking in a capitalistic society.Aerial pics

Typical “McMansion” neighborhoods in western Monmouth County, New Jersey

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