McMansions and the American Lifestyle

By Dan Goodman


It’s a cliche at this point how tacky most McMansions are, and I’ll refer you to McMansion Hell for some cathartic analyses of why they’re just so visually unappealing. These monstrosities are the physical manifestations of our tendencies to live beyond our means, which became pretty evident in 2008. The honest truth is most of us can’t afford a small hotel’s worth of space to live in, nor do we need it.

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Just about every American has found themselves driving down a street full of giant homes like the one above. You might have been impressed by the spectacle, wondering what kind of amazing jobs afforded these people the luxury of a suburban palace to call their own. Homes of this scale are usually built in low density neighborhoods where land is cheap, and are cheaply constructed. Many of these homes where I live in southern Louisiana are built in the Spanish villa style, no doubt attempting to conjure up a Caribbean feel against the lush, palm strewn landscape. This is seen throughout the sun belt, from Los Angeles to Miami. These homes usually lack what gives real old Spanish buildings their charm, durability. There is only one way to ensure a building will age gracefully, using quality materials.

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Apart from being fiscally impractical for most Americans, this trend of oversized homes scattered about on wide residential streets leads to isolation for residents. McMansions are sold to buyers as personal castles, but they end up being more like suburban prisons.

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Who needs any public space or local businesses within five miles of their homes when they live in a palace? Kids have their own rooms filled with gadgets and video games, where they can remain safe within the castle walls. No need for them to venture out into the dangerous world. After all, with every residential street built in the last fifty years scaled like a miniature highway, these neighborhoods are death traps for distracted children. Even if they avoid getting hit by a speeding car, they’re likely to be abducted by some creep in a van. After all, who would notice on a desolate street like the one above. Best to keep the kids inside and watch them get fatter and fatter from the safety of their computer chairs.

There’s nothing wrong with enjoying modern technology and the great indoors, but it’s a shame to deprive kids the joy of aimlessly wandering through their neighborhoods. Many parents feel this way but don’t think they have a choice. Modern neighborhoods just aren’t built to foster any sense of a community. It’s hard to ask the neighbors to keep an eye on your kids when you’ve only ever seen them from across the street one hundred yards away. Even if you do live in a safe neighborhood, most suburbs are so monotonous and boring kids would rather stay indoors.

McMansions have set the trend of giant lots and oversized living quarters for people, constricting their existence to their cars, jobs, and homes with the occasional family dinner at Red Lobster. It’s a bummer for adults and it deprives kids of the necessary interactions with the outside world. We build environments that isolate children and then complain about them being anti-social and addicted to technology.

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The whole point of a mansion used to be privacy and luxury for the absurdly wealthy. Compare that to a row of cheaply built McMansions on a boring suburban street and it’s clear why the concept has fallen out of fashion with many in recent years. The solution? Build for pedestrians. When a neighborhood is built for the public, people are less likely to feel the need for 8,000 square feet of personal space.




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