Carleton Cronin, West Hollywood, California
The City has called in the urban in-fill pros to help it zone for the future needs of its residents. Still, bigger housing and more bathrooms are driving building.
Will West Hollywood follow along?
Early in the game of city-building in West Hollywood a certain long-serving council member encouraged me to offer as many ideas as possible to the city administration, “for we can’t think of everything”, he said.
And, so I have tried to do that. Sometimes loudly, sometimes a faint squeak, sometimes ad nauseam since I probably felt no one was listening.
Two city/resident projects currently underway would seem to be the results of an attentive administration finally recognizing the often patient, sometimes strident voices of the public.
“We would like to hear your ideas for the West Hollywood West Neighborhood Conservation Overlay Zone and Design Guidelines” read the card sent out to residents a few weeks ago. And, hear the residents’ ideas they did.
The second meeting of residents from the West Hollywood West area and city staff took place Saturday, June 14th at the library conference room. An estimated fifty local residents appeared ready to discuss the issues confronting them in this unique section of the city. The city met them with eight young architects and planners from two consulting firms hired specifically for this project.
Those residents who arrived expecting to have another shouting match with city staff must have been surprised by the presence of a well-informed, apparently progressive group which had already done a great deal of research. Off and running with a well-conducted meeting.
If you will recall, the initiating action for the city’s response was the proliferation of “big box houses”, popping up throughout the West Side, displacing the older, smaller, often uniquely designed residences which gave the area much of its charm.
The city properly reacted and contracted with consultants who have a history of working with older areas facing change, and assisting them to manage the change. Managing is the operative word, for change is always amongst us. Thus, attendees were met with a series of choices for design guidelines based upon current zoning codes as well as possible alterations to the codes which would maintain the important elements of good design and avoid the blank walls of the boxy buildings which have so imposed themselves into the community.
I was unable to locate anyone who was disappointed at the tenor and design of the meeting, Everyone was given the opportunity to participate by indicating his regard for the many options presented on several story-boards. The consultants now have lots of homework to do and the next meeting will take place on July 22nd at the same venue.
But, let’s look beyond our local issues with change. Our concerns with maintaining with the character of our neighborhoods with our tidy little houses and comforting (though often hidden behind tall hedges) gardens seems to be bucking a national trend.
Personally, I prefer our approach, but we should be aware of what’s happening in the outside world.
A recent publication of the US Census Bureau entitled The Characteristics of Newly Built American Houses, (some 600 pages long)indicates how our consumer culture has influenced the desires of the public when it comes to choosing residences.
Pew Research as summarized several of the report’s findings. It is interesting also to see which characteristics are favored in different parts of the country.
In the South and Mid-Atlantic states, three or more bathrooms top the list; the Midwest wants three (or more) car garages – not just for cars but for boats, ATVs and other motorized gear); while in the West the preferences run to patios and decks – to enjoy our more temperate weather, of course.
But, beyond the desires for such amenities is the fact that all new construction of single family homes counts on delivering more floor space.
A Washington Post article by Emily Badger tells us that “The housing crash did nothing to tamp (sic) our appetite for enormous houses.”, noting that the median square footage for new single family homes has grown from about 1500 square feet in 1973 to well over 2300 square feet in 2013.
The desire for more space is regional also. In the West it’s 2350 square feet – but usually on lots larger than those in WHW. This surely emphasizes the pressures of a consumer society to have lots of stuff and a place to put it.
Incidentally, we are the only developed country to have millions of square feet of rental storage space for the stuff we cannot get into our houses.)
We want more bathrooms – three or more with, more bedrooms – nearly 50% of new single family homes have four or more.
And we want large kitchens full of equipment which very few are capable of utilizing, but which sure looks good.
People want things they may not even be able to initially afford or maintain – that’s a true consumer culture. Yet, with the decline of our much vaunted middle class, I wonder who is buying these huge houses.
So, I guess it’s fair to say that we in West Hollywood West are bucking the national trends. So what? Our enclave is special with special inhabitants.
Sure, change will come but it must be guided, managed or just the idea of “change” become s the engine which will attempt to make our unique community just like every other..
Keep in mind that the builders of the box houses are doing this by design, not by accident. Over time they have purchased properties with the intent of “developing” them.
This is an exercise of the “American Dream” as it appears to many. But it need not conflict so with our own dream of a pleasant, charming, safe community. So, mark your calendars for July 22nd, the next workshop.
The city has really listened.