What will the New American Home Look Like, Post-Recession?

Nesting on 05.16.11
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Photo Credit: Dean Terry

You may have heard that the U.S. housing market is in a bit of a slump.  

This is especially pronounced in the area of new home construction.  Last year, the industry produced only a little over 400,000 units, as compared to the 1-2 million they built per year before 2006. The industry has been decimated, and will have to rebuild once the economy picks up and housing demand increases.    

No one knows, of course, what the post-recession landscape will look like.  But it's certain that, at least as we begin to emerge from the abyss, the way we finance house purchases, the way we think about our homes (i.e. shelter vs. investment), the degree of efficiency we demand of them, and the financial risks we're willing to take for comfort and luxury will change significantly.  

This will all surely affect the design of the typical American home.  But how?

In an article on Slate, Witold Rybczynsky argues that the McMansion, that 4,000+ square foot tract home found in the outer suburbs of our country's metro areas, will fall out of fashion.  He predicts that families will opt for smaller homes on smaller lots in the inner suburbs, or urban townhomes, where commutes will be shorter and energy bills will be smaller.  

I'm one of those snobs who would welcome the demise of the McMansion.  At least today.  We live in a funky urban neighborhood, in a house that just doubled in size to a whopping 1600 square feet when I built an addition on it after we found out we were having twins.  We have a lot of the problems associated with urban areas; but we also have great parks nearby and an amazing array of activities for kids.  But I worry that once our kids (now just shy of two years old) are approaching kindergarten age, we'll run for the good schools, safer streets, and bigger lawns of the 'burbs.

Is Rybczynsky onto something?  Or will Americans demand that builders just start cranking out super-sized suburban houses at the previous rate as soon as the economy shows real signs of recovery.  And would there be anything wrong with that?  What do you think?   

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