Urban Fold

Thinking by the Square Foot

Tim Halbur's picture
Blogger / Alum

"Buyers value the dollar per square foot, and the builder responds by delivering as many square feet of conditioned space as possible for $X. If he can deliver 100 more square feet than the competition, most buyers think it's a better value."

-Ron Jones, Green Builder Magazine, in The Washington Post.

That was then (2007), this is now. As housing prices hit bottom, there's a general sense that home building can't go back to business as usual when the market recovers. And one of the first things that will have to change is the idea that square footage is the sole arbiter of value.  As The Christian Science Monitor reported in January, the "McMansion Trend In Housing Is Slowing."

The question becomes, how can we build efficient, smaller homes that people will find value in? I'll be exploring that issue with some excellent panelists at CNU 17 this Friday, as we discuss "Smart, Sustainable and Economical: Homes for the New Era." Marianne Cusato has been exploring this idea since developing a Katrina Cottage in the wake of the hurricane. If you attended our recent webinar with Marianne, you know that she is passionate about returning housing to a more realistic, affordable, and well-designed form. In preparing for the panel, I've been impressed with Marianne's ability to tackle all the issues, from sustainability to density and around to value and quality. 

Panel at CNU17

Steve Mouzon and Andrés Duany don't need much introduction, as both have been highly prominent in the practice of New Urbanism since its inception. Through the New Urban Guild, Steve is now working on a refinement of the idea they're calling a "SmartDwelling." Here's what Steve has to say about the panel:

My part of this session will focus on the New Urban Guild's SmartDwelling Project. SmartDwelling I was just featured along with three other designs on the cover of the Wall Street Journal's special section on sustainability. SmartDwellings are substantially smaller than yesterday's bloated McMansions, but they live large, largely in part due to what the Guild is calling Smaller & Smarter Principles. SmartDwellings are also highly sustainable on several counts, calibrating their sustainability to each region of the country. 

I hope you'll get a chance to join us this Friday at 4:15pm at CNU17 in Denver. As a Planetizen reader, I'd like to give you the opportunity to let me know what you think we should ask this august panel. Send your questions to me at [email protected]



Tim Halbur is communications director for the Congress for the New Urbanism (CNU).



Thinking by the Square Foot

Tim, thanks for the mention... and thanks for hosting our session in Denver! Borrowing a (strategically horrible, maybe) automobile analogy, some have asked "do you buy a BMW by the pound, or by the performance?" Our question about SmartDwellings (and any Smaller & Smarter homes, for that matter) would be "why measure them by the square footage? why not measure them by their livability instead?" That's like measuring the potential ability of upcoming college students by how many pounds they weigh. How silly would that be? Smarter, not bigger. More or better... which do you prefer? Better matters... more is inconsequential in the world ahead.
~Steve Mouzon

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