The New York Times: Let’s Quit Fetishizing the Single-Family Home

The New York Times, February 5, 2020: Let’s quit fetishizing the single-family home

When my family emigrated from our native South Africa to Southern California in the 1980s, my parents, my sister and I fell hard for this state’s endless suburban sprawl. To the four of us, the acres of subdivisions that had been mushrooming up across California since World War II were the embodiment of everything we’d been promised about America. A bigger-than-enough house, a two-car garage and a backyard of brilliant green lawn — this was the California Dream we’d seen on TV.

By the time I got to middle school, my immigrant family was able to afford a house with a yard of our own — back then, California really was the land of milk and honey — and I spent my youth in the sun-drenched suburbs. It was a fine place to grow up; in the mass-produced “little boxes made of ticky-tacky” that stretch across California and much of America, I found comfort, safety and a crucial sense of belonging in the American landscape.

And yet, wistful though I may remain for my suburban-sprawl childhood, these days I find myself continually amazed and befuddled by my state’s insane fetishization of an anachronistic model of urban development. Why — when the case for some better way of living has become so painfully obvious — can’t California quit propping up its endless rows of single-family houses? Why can’t so much of America? And what level of extreme unlivability is it going to take to finally convince us that there isn’t enough space for all of us to live as if space is infinite?

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