By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
The moral fervor of the reformers, who sought to separate, privatize and sanitize the American way of living, as well as establish the primacy of the nuclear family and the residential neighborhoods in which they were to be properly housed, must have made them hard to defy. Groth quotes Edith Elmer Wood in her book Recent Trends in American Housing: "The only excuse for apartments is for celibates, childless couples and elderly people," she scolded. Added city- and suburban-homes builder E.R.L. Gould: Apartments should serve only as an intermediate stage between the "promiscuous and common life" of the existing city and the "dignified well-ordered life of the detached house."
The real estate industry was an eager partner in the zoning reforms, which in effect codified what has become known as suburban sprawl, and over the next few decades a frenzy of suburban home building ensued. Any housing left in downtowns by midcentury was soon leveled by misguided attempts at "urban renewal," literally draining downtowns of their lifeblood and creating the familiar checkerboard landscape of high-rise office buildings and asphalt parking lots that become ghost towns at 6 p.m.
But seismic changes in the demographics of this country are forcing the housing market to broaden the notion of "home" in cities everywhere: Single adults will soon be the new majority. Families consisting of breadwinner dads and stay-at-home moms — the nuclear family of yore — account for just one-tenth of all households. Married couples with kids — the demographic group that made up the vast majority not too long ago — now account for just 25 percent, a share expected to drop to 20 percent in five years. At the same time, the U.S. population continues to become more ethnically diverse, and there are more "empty nesters" and what the U.S. Census calls "nonfamily" households (unmarried couples and singles).
"Echo Boomers," who will account for more than a third of the U.S. population in 2010, epitomize the demographics and lifestyle that will soon dominate the housing market: 40 percent are nonwhite, they are tech-savvy and they like easy access to entertainment, and they’re very social. "They want to be where the action is . . . near coffee shops, clubs, restaurants, and shopping," Pamela Hamilton of the Centre City Development Corp. in San Diego told the Chicago Tribune in a recent housing story. "[T]his group is very social."
Edith Elmer Wood almost had it right. The single-family detached home had a good run as the embodiment of the American Dream, but it’s coming to an end. Even while suburban sprawl continues unabated at the city’s outer edges, the center of the city — of L.A.’s many cities — is contracting and densifying as people move back to the urban core: Last month, 9,000 people registered for the Central City Association’s tour of new housing downtown, where 122 development projects are under way.
As Groth concludes, the "unattached" — that is, anyone not a part of a family unit, that sacrosanct building block of the American real estate market — have been ill-served by planners and the real estate industry. But, he writes, public officials are finally coming to understand three basic realities: "that people are diverse; that diversity requires flexible approaches and multiple solutions to problems; and that diverse environments are essential for maintaining important social and cultural options. No one solution can work for all Americans. These ideas mark a major shift from professional attitudes of the past 100 years."
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