10/14/2005

Supersize Me!
The Housing Problem as a Spiritual Matter

I was going to continue writing about Jesus Christ Superstar, but it is a tad frivolous. Then I read the SFGate's always-relevant Surreal Estate column today, which was called "Monster Homes R Us: American homes are monuments to conspicuous consumption." Spurred by the recent proposal by David Duffield, founder of PeopleSoft, to build a 72,000 square foot house, even bigger than the one Bill Gates had built for himself, Carol Lloyd looks at the larger phenomenon.

Consider this:
"According to a Harvard University study, in the 1950s -- an era infamous for domestic consumerism run amuck -- the average home was only 1,140 square feet. It grew to 1,800 in the 1970s and now it's over 2,225. When it comes to new single-family housing, luxury and excess are no longer simply for the occasional oil tycoon or Hollywood starlet, they are a burgeoning sector of the middle-class building industry. According to the National Association of Home Builders, 21 percent of new homes in 2004 were 3,000 square feet or more."

That, in a nutshell, illustrates the structural problem that people in the U.S. are creating for themselves: bigger homes, spread further and further apart, resulting in the need to drive further and further to buy groceries, drop children off at childcare and school, and go to work. We are, as an article in the League of California Cities magazine, Western City, was titled, "Driving ourselves to death." (Sorry, the article itself doesn't seem to be available online.)

Carl Magruder wrote on his blog, Confessions of an Earth Quaker:
"This is what the breakdown of community, phony spirituality, corporate media, consumerism, over-busyness, separateness from simple life processes like nursing the sick and dying or growing our own food, and even apathy itself do to the human organism."

At least three members of our monthly meeting our going on "car fasts." Of course, that's easier to do in a compact city like San Francisco than in many places in California, for example.

The point here being (clamber up onto soapbox):

  • the way we build our physical environment is an expression of our spiritual values; and
  • the way we get out of the problems caused by our way of life has to include a strategy to address the built environment, whether back to the land or back to the city; and
  • that has to include addressing the injustices of both city and rural life.


As Carl also wrote, "The inseparability of social justice and earthcare issues is undeniable here." I agree.

As Paul says in 1 Corinthians chapter 1, "I urge you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to agree together, to end your divisions, and to be united by the same mind and purpose." How are Quakers going to find unity as a religious society -- unity in mind, heart, spirit and body -- to act together, with love for God, for one another, and for the world?

1 comment:

Robin M. said...

Business Week had an article on the impact of this phenomenon last week:

Living Too Large In Exurbia
Big houses. Big cars. Now, bigger bills. A lifestyle built on cheap energy and cheap credit is in jeopardy

"... Love them or hate them, the exurbs are playing an increasingly important role in America's cultural landscape. In the minds of critics, the exurbs tend to attract conservative young families whose communities and lives often revolve around megachurches. Liberals blame the exurbs for reelecting President Bush in 2004. Conservationists blame them for spoiling the landscape with ugly sprawls of look-alike houses and promoting wasteful lifestyles.

Supporters of exurbs see a much different picture. Author David Brooks, whose book On Paradise Drive: How We Live Now (And Always Have) in the Future Tense examines the exurban phenomenon, often points out that exurbs are highly diverse and getting more so. They provide a high quality of life for many, including millions of immigrants. Indeed, exurbia has attracted both upper-income families who live expansive lifestyles and middle- and lower-income families who move to the far fringes of metro areas because it allows them to step up the ladder to a bigger house, better schools, and a nicer life than they could afford closer in. ...

The moment of truth for many exurbanites may be coming soon, says Vern S. Lazaroff, an attorney in Milford, Pa., and Port Jervis, N.Y., who specializes in personal bankruptcy. "A lot of people here get mortgaged up to their necks," he says. Once winter comes, "there's no way to pay for the fuel oil and the mortgage in the same month. There's just no way. I expect to see a huge number coming to my office."

Here is the link to the whole article, but I think you may have to sign up for Busnessweek Online to read it. Living Large in Exurbia