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Now that the recession has killed the McMansion, what does the home of the future look like?
It’s a lot smaller than you think.
Builders are chopping out the rooms we just don’t use anymore and slashing the size of yards. But don’t panic: They’re making up the difference with more charming downtown areas and shared spaces like parks and pools.
Click here to take a stroll through the home – and neighborhood -- of the future.
By Cindy Perman
Posted 10 Nov 2010
After the supersize era of McMansions, Americans are starting to rightsize their American Dream: More than one-third say their ideal home size is under 2,000 square feet, according to real-estate site Trulia.
Every year, Builder magazine does a concept home that represents where the market’s at. This year, it was called “A Home for the New Economy,”which weighed in at around 1,700 square feet – and, interestingly, was only designed virtually. (Floor plan pictured left. Take a virtual tour.)
They eliminated formal spaces that people just aren’t using anymore, like formal living rooms and libraries, instead opting for a great room and a bedroom/home office on the main floor that offers greater flexibility for current – and future owners, said Boyce Thompson, editorial director of Builder magazine.
And, with fewer people having kids these days and more waiting until later in life to get married, developers are adding more condos, town homes and smaller single-family homes to the suburban mix, said Suzanna Rynne of the American Planning Association.Not to mention, there are more divorces today, so those types of homes are a great way for the spouse who moves out to live near the family without having to buy a big house.
The hallmark of suburban life has been a garage on the front and a sprawling backyard with everything you need – a deck, dining set, swingset, pool and jacuzzi – to ensure you’ll never have to see your neighbors again.
Well now many developers are flipping that business in the front, party in the back model, putting the garage on the back and adding big front porches as a way to drive people back together and foster a sense of community.
You can see it in Builder’s “Home for the New Economy” (pictured left) and it’s such an integral part of Denver’s new urbanist neighborhood Stapleton, they named their community newsletter “Front Porch.”
That’s right – time to move the business to the back, and the party to the front!
It used to be that if you had a tiny yard it was because land was too expensive where you lived, like some of the suburbs of New York City.
In some neighborhoods in or near big cities, like Stapleton or the Orlando neighborhood of Baldwin Park, Fla. (pictured left) you’ll find they choose to have smaller yards, in favor of large, shared green spaces, where the kids play and adults gather with lawn chairs.
That’s partly because it’s better for the environment and community building, but there’s a more practical reason.
“Most households now have two people working,” said John McIlwain, a senior resident fellow at the Urban Land Institute.“Who wants to spend their time cleaning their house … or taking care of big yards … when they have kids to take care of?”
He said a magnet on his daughter-in-law’s fridge sums it up: “A clean home is a sign of a wasted life!”
Not only are neighbors increasingly sharing green spaces, they’re also sharing amenities like pools or public fountains designed for kids to walk through.
Stapleton, for example, has three – soon to be four – pools.
Sharing such an amenity is not only better for the environment (less concrete, water and energy use) but, like the smaller yards, it means less upkeep – and more time for your family.
Instead of having suburbs, or in the case of Stapleton and Baldwin Park, suburbs within the city limits, it’s not just a matter of creating livable space, it’s about creating community.
So, developers and towns and increasingly offering a roster of activities keep people local, from free walking tours to farmers’ markets.
Baldwin Park has everything from a chili cook off to Doggy Derby,a friendly canine competition held on the morning of the Kentucky Derby. Stapleton has everything from a neighborhood garage sale to the “Dogs of Stapleton” calendar (2010 winners pictured left).
Towns are also increasingly launching their own big events as a way to not only bring the town together, but put their town on the map and, let’s face it, generate more revenue.
There’s a rising crop of Oktoberfests, or in harsher climates, winter festivals to boost the community’s spirits when the mercury drops. Spring Grove, Ill.offers the “World’s Largest Corn Maze” and Mountainside, NJhas “The Great Pumpkin Sail,” where everyone brings their carved pumpkins at dusk, where they light them and float them down the lake, before toasting marshmallows around the campfire.
And in the wide open skies of Colorado, they have “Balloona Vista,”where colorful hot-air balloons set sail in the sky, while revelers dance, drink and dine at the festival below.
Down here on Earth, it’s back to the future – Charming downtown areas are back, offering restaurants and shops just a few minutes from home.
That’s partly because, with two or more people working in the home, you don’t want to have to go far on nights and weekends, particularly if you have kids. But having businesses in town also brings in valuable revenue, which means you can afford to offer amenities like pools, parks and walking trails, without having to raise taxes or homeowners’ association fees.
It used to be that only big cities or college campuses offered “walkable entertainment” but today, whether it’s for the sake of the environment, time or both – more towns are offering walkable entertainment.
In Stapleton, they have a free outdoor movie series in the summer, held in Founders Green, one of their shared green spaces. (pictured left)
Events like these not only save gas and time but dollars, too – have you been to a movie lately? For a family of four, that could be $50 or more.
Thanks, I’ll bring my friend Orvilleto the town green!
Towns are also increasingly adding public transit options, whether it’s bus, light rail or jitney (a bus to the train), to help people get to work and around town without having to get in their car.
“Having the option to take public transit is one thing that people want – maybe not take every day, but they want that option,” Rynne said.
Of course, laying down tracks or even setting up bus routes costs money. One innovative approach is Bcycle,a company that has set up networks of bike-rental stations (pictured left) everywhere from Denver to Des Moines – and all the way down to San Antonio.
It works much like Zip Cars:Bike-rental stations are set up at various points in the city. You swipe your credit card and pick a bike, then drive it to your destination and check it back into a station there. When you’re ready to leave, pick a new bike and drive it back, or to your next destination.
One day, we’ll look back and laugh about that time we used carry around the front wheel of our bike so no one would steal it!
Energy efficiency used to be an option for appliances, windows, furnaces, etc., but it’s becoming standard on new homes.
“People are really concerned after the energy scare of 2008 – they’re worried about what it’s going to cost to run their house,” Thompson said. “No one wants a gas guzzler – especially because it impairs resale down the road.”
He said that’s one way builders are getting the edge over a market stuffed with existing homes – the new homes they’re building are more energy efficient, and cost less to run than many older homes.
Solar panels, like the ones pictured left from Applied Solar,are finding their way on to more and more homes. And, one of the coolest home upgradestoday is having a master control for energy consumption – much like the way you can control the lights, stereo and thermostat from one master control.
You’ve seen wind farms, up there tumbling in the sky, but in the future, one may be coming to your backyard, like the one pictured left from Sky Stream Energy.
It may be that you and your personal wind turbine connected to the grid and if you generate more than you need, it gets pumped into the system for others to use and you get a credit. Or, it could be a way for you stay off the grid altogether, and be a single, energy-independent unit, Rynne explained.
What do you think of that, Don Quixote?