Tuesday, September 27, 2022

On Apartments Going Up

 This weekend due to a birthday brunch, we had to drive "downtown".

I do not drive "downtown" much - in fact, I do not drive down there at all if I can help it.  We are comfortably ensconced in the nearby suburbs and really, my world has shrunk to a radius of about 5 miles (except for Iai class, which is farther out).  I do not enjoy the traffic, I do not enjoy the masses of people, I do not enjoy urban sprawl or urban renewal (which are often the same in my mind).

That said, my trips down there are so infrequent that it is at least interesting to see the changes.

What I noticed is how many apartments are being thrown up.

Houses (actual houses) do still get built this close in (although most of that development happens far beyond these environs), but they are running out of room to put them on.  A ten acre plot seems to now hold fifteen to twenty houses, all smashed together in the now ubiquitous California "Zero Clearance" style (so named because in California, the spacing between new houses in the 2000s came to be a little less than one person wide on each side of the fence). 

As a result of the land diminishing, it simply is more valuable to build apartments.

These are not the ten or twenty units I knew growing up.  These are hundreds of units spread out over large acres, three to five stories up in the sky (or more, if you are downtown).  Banks of empty sockets that will become windows and possibly decks stare back as you drive by.

I shudder when I see them.

Let us assume a three hundred unit apartment complex, with three people average per apartment.  That is 900 people crammed into a space less than some small towns that have less populations.

The units, of course, are totally dependent on local utilities for electricity, gas, and water.  No "pull out a generator" or "borrow your neighbor's" when the power goes out in Winter (or worse here, in Summer where there is nothing but the face of the Sun).  Minimal ability if any exists to do something like provide some element of food for one's self in any way.  

Then multiply all of this.  By tens easily, but one could probably find 50 such projects going on right now. 

We lived in apartments the first seven to eight years of our marriage.  We moved after that into a house, and have been in a house ever since. Beyond just the fact that I have some level of space from my neighbors, there are any number of things I can do even on my limited piece of property, should I choose to.  But for those that will inhabit these towering hives, there is little if anything they can do.

It all works well of course - utilities, groceries, water - until something bad happens.  Something that takes down the power that heats and cools and powers the cooking and refrigeration units and drives the city pumps that move the water.  Then, things get a bit more dicey.

This is what truly terrifies me as I see these edifices going up.

Compact urban planning, like many things, depends on a number of factors to make it effective.  And it is not just space and willingness of people to live that way.  It depends on reliable food, fuel, and water to always be available, to always be delivered, and to only fail in the most limited of circumstances.  It relies on an economic system and supply chain that always functions and always prioritizes making sure supplies are delivered to the city.

Many probably drive by and marvel at the newness and sheen of the building.  I drive by and wonder "What happens when something goes wrong?"

24 comments:

  1. Anonymous2:30 AM

    We see some of that going on here as well. In older part of city, half a block of demolished homes taken off to be replaced by a pair of two story apartment buildings, with the resident parking lot in between them. I thought it was just my imagination, but using Google Maps, I can see the trend is real. At least 6 different complexes built within two years of each other.

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    1. On the one hand, I am modestly thrilled that land interior of a city is worth developing rather than chewing up new untouched land farther out. On the other hand, the implications of increasing population density without an increase in infrastructure (which, of course, needs to be planned years ahead and is not paid for by the developers of the units) is worrisome in the long term.

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    2. Anonymous10:29 AM

      I think the large number of new apartments complexes has to do with the cost of property and new home cost. Is becoming high enough to where people cannont afford a mortgage. Less costly to rent an apartment and not worry about being left upside down in an economic crash. No mortgage, but no property tax either. And still retain mobility.

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    3. That is a fair and good point - certainly housing costs here (and in most "desirable" locations) are through the roof and thus unreachable for many people. As an example, we could now not afford to buy a home here anywhere geographically where we are located now. And we do live with a much more mobile workforce than ever.

      Which, I suppose, brings up its own questions: if one is always mobile and moving, how much of a community is being built?

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  2. Nylon124:29 AM

    That many people moving in, what will that do to the local school? Room to expand? Voters want to increase levees in order to build/expand physical school buildings? All sorts of ramifications from the "pack 'em in" mentality.

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    1. There are, Nylon12. And it impacts even existing things like school districts: the growth is all out in the suburbs while the older more centrally located school districts have to shut schools down (and no one wants it to be their school, of course). And voters in both new and old are asked to fund more: the old, to save the schools and failing facilities; the new, to pay for expansion.

      My sense is more often than not many moving into apartments will say "yes" to such increases, because they do not themselves pay the property tax increases, yet are always shocked when their rent increases so the owners can pay them.

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  3. We lived in a duplex for a year, and an apartment for 9 months. I hated them both. The apartment was soul crushing. I remember the kids running all over. I stood on my dresser and looked out the window on the top (3 floor "townhome" apt), and it was rooflines as far as I could see. I felt like that indian chief in the PSA looking at the trash with tears on my cheeks.

    I decided to build my son a tent bed. Of course it was overbuilt. The apartment manager came by and saw me sitting on the step, cutting some plywood and working on the project. He offered me a job on the spot in maintenance. The day we left, some government agency was taking over the place. Terra Gardens, 9901 Club Creek, Houston. The locals called it drug creek. Gun shots were the lullaby.

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    1. STxAR, I also find nothing but roofs and giant building skylines very depressing.

      It is nice that you could do work on a project like that - often these days, the ability to do such things is limited (for example, no car maintenance in the parking lot). That makes it hard to do a lot of very simple tasks.

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  4. For reference, the nearest town to where I grew up had 450 residents spread over probably a square mile!

    I always cheer on urban upward expansion. It generally means a higher density of people can live there keeping the countryside that I inhabit relatively empty.

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    1. On the one hand I agree with you Ed; on the other, not only does it create more of an issue when something goes wrong, it also concentrates power and money in a very few places, which I do not think is a healthy development.

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    2. That it does. But my hope is that if something does go wrong, it buys me some time as they fight it out in what is left of the city while I eat my garden veggies and venison steaks.

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    3. Oh agreed, Ed. In the event of even a moderate disaster, the urban areas always get most of the attention, both good and bad.

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  5. Pete, got your comment and wanted to respond.

    Low income housing is always a catch 22: There are people that truly do need it and benefit from it (this has happened within my extended family) and people that take advantage of it. I think it depends a great deal on the management of the property; it is either controlled and rigorously monitored (and some of the good ones are), or it is not.

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    1. I hate to say it, PP, but it's NEVER "rigorously monitored." In fact, when I found out that the drug pusher/brothel proprietor was on Section Eight, I tried to get the "monitors" to check the guy out. I was told that I WAS THE ONE who needed to prove to the "MONITORS" that investigation was necessary! The Section Eight renters next door; the guy was doing car repair under the table. He had so many junker cars in his driveway he started parking cars and working on them in front of MY house. I told him to move them and he said "I'll do whatever the "blank" I want to! You should be glad that I'm not out there robbing and killing people!" Yes, that's EXACLTY what he said... only he didn't say "blank." Please forgive my bitterness on this subject, but I watched my entire town GUTTED by these programs! Fact is, low income housing turns everything around it into "low income." Apartment buildings springing up in your area are NEVER a good thing...

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    2. Sorry; I meant TB...

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    3. No worries Pete (I knew who you meant).

      It is hard to watch something you care about and love being destroyed. I understand your bitterness. To be fair, I cannot specifically speak to Section 8 in particular as I have no experience as a landlord in this regard, other than in the singular case in my experience, it did precisely what it was supposed to do: enabled an individual to get their life back together and eventually move on (and buy their own house, as it turns out).

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  6. And thus why people in dense cities are leftist - they are willfully at the mercy of others for the basics of life.

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    1. John, the interesting thing to me is by and large, there is no questioning of the fundamental fact that a city consumes a great deal more than it provides and whether or not that is a good thing - and that cuts across all all political spectrums.

      I wonder if there is an example of a city which is actual trying to do as much as possible to actually feed, provide energy, and provide natural resources for itself rather than depend on the countryside, country, and world around it to supply them.

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    2. I think that the cities have always been places of manufacture and commerce - the division of labor comes to mind. Food and resources from the fringes, clothes and tractors from the centers.

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    3. You are right John (of course you are). I suppose my thought is partially guided by the idea that up to say the end of the 18th Century, cities were somewhat self regulating in size as they could only reliably count on those things that were within a modest circle of supply due to the fact that energy was supplied by people or animals. When transportation and energy become first available and then abundant, they could expand in a way that was not dependent on what was nearby. And over time, they came to rely on that. Were somehow the grid magically to crash, I suspect most places would be in desperate straits in short order.

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  7. I wish all the idiots moving into small houses out here in my once rural utopia would go back to the apartments. Had a group come by the other day asking me to put a no solar sign by my drive way. Some big company wants to build a few miles of solar farms out here now. I told em to keep their damned sign I would rather live next to a solar panel than all these new people that have moved out here over the last year or so. Takes 20 minutes just to get gas out here now.

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    1. Preppy - That is the other side of rural gentrification; lots of people and infrastructures not able to handle them.

      Prior to the fire this year, there were always many homes available on a constant basis where my parents live. My reasoning for this is that people imagine they want to get away from it all, until they truly understand what that means. Now, given the fire, I suspect even more will reconsider their choices.

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  8. Anonymous3:06 AM

    Well, Green Living isn't all its cracked up to be. Our ranch used to be secluded with dark starlit nights to be enjoyed. The wind energy turbines installed on nearby lands now have red blinking lights ruining all of that., a line along the horizon nearly 180 degrees. Like that motel room with blinking light - ugh !

    TB, I do agree that many people think rural life is getting away from it all is always a good thing. A lot we take for granted in developed locations is missing. Visits from family and friends are not nearly as often as they were living in the city for example. This can be a feature though :^).

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    1. You do bring up an interesting point (I agree with the annoyance of light pollution; it is creeping up to The Ranch as well): although there geographical considerations for wind generators or solar panels, at the same time why do urban areas not start with the "how much energy generation can we make here"? Not just on the individual level, but on the corporate level. I suspect part of the reason not to move forward is simply the unsightliness of windmills and solar panel farms in the urban environment.

      I think the disconnect with moving out to the hinterlands - or at least one of them - is that we are two or more generations removed from family that regularly lived there. Even my generation, although we did not live "out there", visited enough to know exactly what life was like. Now so many people have no reason to go except for short trips where the see the glory of Nature and solitude, not fully understanding what all truly comes with that.

      And yes, it can be a feature!

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