Joel Kotkin is not a favorite here; he doesn't think much of new urbanism and is quite the fan of suburbia. But it is hard to argue with the initial premise of his article in the Daily Beast, where he claims that the high cost of a home is turning American millennials into serfs.
In some markets, high rents and weak millennial incomes make it all but impossible to raise a down payment . According to Zillow, for workers between 22 and 34, rent costs now claim upward of 45 percent of income in Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York, and Miami, compared to less than 30 percent of income in metropolitan areas like Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston. The costs of purchasing a house are even more lopsided: In Los Angeles and the Bay Area, a monthly mortgage takes, on average, close to 40 percent of income, compared to 15 percent nationally. Like medieval serfs in pre-industrial Europe, America’s new generation, particularly in its alpha cities, seems increasingly destined to spend their lives paying off their overlords, and having little to show for it.
It’s time for millennials to demand politicians abandon the policies that have enriched the wealthy and stolen their future. That means removing barriers to lots of new housing in cities and, crucially, embracing Frank Lloyd Wright’s notion of Broadacre Cities, with expansive development along the periphery.
But he also notes that "the soon-to-develop tsunami of redundant retail space will open up millions of square feet for new homes. A move to prefabricated homes, already common in Europe and Japan, could help reduce costs." This kind of intensification and redevelopment might be more appropriate. Most of the barriers to new housing in cities are set up by NIMBYs who like things the way they are and don't want intensification, but as Kotkin notes, shopping centers are fading, Main Street retail is in trouble, de-industrialization is still happening so there is in fact, lots of room for innovation.
Perhaps it is also time to learn from the tiny house movement, or as we noted yesterday, the trailer park, and look at different models of home ownership. The trailer park model separates the cost of land and servicing from the cost of the dwelling unit, dramatically lowering the cost of housing. The dwellings are built in a factory at lower cost per square foot while the developer retains the land, keeping the asset while getting rental revenue. We recently showed Live Light's uhü; here are some earlier prototypes that we have shown. They are not all so crazy.
In Berlin, the Hüttenpalast is a budget boutique hotel that is in a converted factory space; imagine it as a co-op of tiny homes. The owners explain the advantage of camping inside:
They wanted to keep the great architecture and not destroy it by building separate rooms into the manufacture. Also they wanted to create a room, where people actually meet each other.
More in TreeHugger: Cool Camping Hotel: Guests at Berlin's Hüttenpalast Sleep in Refurbished Caravans
Here, the architects think of the building as a platform of lots in the sky, where you park your IKEA-like prefab pod. They think of it as a "political move that seeks the densification of the city through low-cost construction targeting a young and unattached client."
Why do architects keep trying to squash houses into containers? Container dimensions are terrible. Why not design a kickass apartment and use all of the other fun toys that we find on docks to help deal with the many troubling issues that the modern visions of dense housing have difficulty addressing?
He recognized that at different times of our lives we want different configurations, perhaps keeping the party people away from the families with kids. This makes a great deal of sense. More: Andrew Maynard's Corb 2.0: Archigram Reborn
One of my favorite designs was Felipe Campolina's Portable Housing, which had collapsible houses that plugged into a giant frame.
The units themselves are kind of like a pop-up camper, minimizing transport costs by having the kitchen and bath telescope into the living and dining spaces, cutting the length in half. This also allows it to be transported up to where it is plugged in.
More in TreeHugger: "Portable Housing" Is Really A Vertical Trailer Park
These are not new ideas. Elmer Frey, who actually coined the term "mobile home" wanted to build urban highrises for them.
Two twin towers, each 332 feet tall and 247 feet around, would hold 16 single wide mobile homes on each floor was the plan. A total of 504 mobile homes would be housed in the 20 story structure. With shopping and parking on the first 6 floors, a restaurant on the top floor of one tower and a community center on top of the other, the residents had everything they needed within walking distance and the rent was projected to be around $150-200 a month.
More in TreeHugger: A vertical trailer park was proposed in 1966
People are still trying; the Alpod is designed to fit in to future towers, "It is a vision of pods that can be moved, changed, and relocated, so that the people living in the building don't just move in and out of the building, but they can actually move the house within the high-rise".
Perhaps what we need is just a framework where anyone can park the dwelling of their choice, like Dutch designer Catherina Scholten did as a stage set for a production of Anton Chekhov’s Ivanov. Everyone thought it was real back when blogs were young, and it was "racing through the blogosphere faster than headlice through a kindergarten." Stage set or not, it represents a different approach to housing and density, creating platforms in the sky where people can build what they think is appropriate.
It's not a new idea; the Celestial Real Estate Company proposed it in 1909. Perhaps it is time for another look.