Housing Policy

Little Boxes

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Friday fun link: a website "devoted to listing as many examples of people using shipping containers as architectural elements as I can find." Like this "mixed wood and container home":

shipping1

Or this retractable café:

shipping2

Or this enormous "makeshift mall" in Ukraine:

shipping3

That last one might not look impressive—hey, it was closed at the time—but the story behind the mall is pretty amazing:

[T]he last Soviet city fathers of Odessa expelled the pioneers in a previously unknown free market from the city, banishing them

mallindaytime

to a 10-acre spot seven kilometers, or about four miles, from the city's limits….That was in 1989, as the Soviet Union itself was unraveling, and what has since emerged is Europe's most extraordinary and, some say, largest market.

It now sprawls over 170 acres. The largest shopping center in the United States, the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minn., covers 96 acres, though all comparisons end there.

The market is part third-world bazaar, part post-Soviet Wal-Mart, a place of unadulterated and largely unregulated capitalism where certain questions—about salaries, rents, taxes or last names—are generally met with suspicion.

Open every day but Friday, the market now has 16,000 traders or so and a central staff of 1,200, mostly security guards and janitors, making it the region's largest employer. An estimated 150,000 shoppers come each day, traveling in hundreds of buses from as far as Russia, more than 300 miles away, in search of the bargains that the evident avoidance of customs and taxes makes possible.

"Over the 15 years of its operation it has been called different things," the Ukrainian newsweekly Zerkalo Nedeli wrote in 2004, "but in fact it is a state within a state, with its own laws and rules. It has become a sinecure for the rich and a trade haven for the poor."

Teresa Nielsen Hayden has more on shipping container architecture here, and CNN tackles the topic here. Virginia Postrel praises shipping containers in general here. "As generic as the 1's and 0's of computer code, a container can hold just about anything, from coffee beans to cellphone components," Postrel writes. That ain't half of it.

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  1. Jesse, if you like this kind of thing, you’ve got to check out BLDGBLOG:

    http://bldgblog.blogspot.com/

  2. It’s a great article – but the NYT couldn’t get a photo when the market was open!!! That’s really sad…

  3. Thanks, Mike – that looks like a great site.

  4. It’s a great article – but the NYT couldn’t get a photo when the market was open!!! That’s really sad…

    They did, but it isn’t a panoramic shot. It’s the picture next to the quoted text.

  5. And, of course, if you brought the photo from the top of the post down to your local planning and zoning committee, and told them you wanted to erect such a structure on your lot, you’d breeze right through the permitting process.

  6. They’re also damn near perfect for transporting enormous quantities of irradiated cash.

  7. And, having made my compulsive anti- P&Z jab, I should point out that I find these projects incredibly cool, and have been toying with the notion of building something similar for myself.

  8. About the “mall” – the places that are the most intimate, humane, and friendly to a person walking around look like a ragged mess from the sky. It’s the places that look all neat and orderly from a bird’s eye view that make for the meost depressing, oppressive experiences.

    Look and the street plans of old cities vs. the 60s-era urban renewal projects that replaces them.

  9. Shopped at several container malls in Moscow during the late 90’s. I expect most have been replaced by rickety buildings by now.

  10. Containers? For holding stuff?!
    BRILLIANT!

  11. And, of course, if you brought the photo from the top of the post down to your local planning and zoning committee, and told them you wanted to erect such a structure on your lot, you’d breeze right through the permitting process.

    Ha!

    And, having made my compulsive anti- P&Z jab, I should point out that I find these projects incredibly cool, and have been toying with the notion of building something similar for myself.

    I actually looked into this a couple of years back; I can easily afford to pay cash for a small piece of land and put something like this structure on top of it, but of course the law forbids me to do so. P&Z people think you’re better off homeless than living in a house they find tacky.

    (Well, you might not be better off homeless, but everyone else in town would be. Making sure people don’t have to look at tacky stuff is a legitimate function of the government.)

  12. About the “mall” – the places that are the most intimate, humane, and friendly to a person walking around look like a ragged mess from the sky. It’s the places that look all neat and orderly from a bird’s eye view that make for the meost depressing, oppressive experiences. Look and the street plans of old cities vs. the 60s-era urban renewal projects that replaces them.

    Or to put it another way: the places that people build when left to their own devices are the most intimate, humane and friendly to a person walking around. It’s the places built by people forced to obey government dictates that make for the most depressing, oppressive experiences. Look at the street plans of old DIY cities versus the 60s-era planned-by-wise-government projects that replaced them.

  13. Funny, then, how the pattern for those projects was based on similar projects built entirely by the private sector, based on designs created by private-sector architects, building what they wanted when left to their own devices.

    I’ll tell you, it’s almost as if there are issues that don’t boil down the pet theories of libertarians with one-track-minds.

  14. I think we can apply joe’s comments to other areas:

    Things that look all neat and orderly from a bird’s eye view, like the federal reserve, make for the most depressing, oppressive experiences.

    However, things that look like a ragged mess, like an economy running all willy-nilly without the Fed turns out to be the more intimate, humane and friendly.

    I think we can apply this to all kinds of things.

    Good job, joe. Spot on.

  15. Certainly, it is only the public sector that ever seeks to achieve efficiencies through large-scale building and the imposition of standardization.

    Lord knows no private sector developers ever do that.

  16. Facial reconstruction surgery that looks all neat and orderly from a bird’s eye view make for the most depressing, oppressive faces.

    However, faces that look like a ragged mess… oh wait

  17. Funny, then, how the pattern for those projects was based on similar projects built entirely by the private sector, based on designs created by private-sector architects, building what they wanted when left to their own devices.

    If Group A likes this style of planning, then Groups B – Z will surely like it too! Let’s impose it on everyone!

  18. or simplifying even more:

    Order = bad
    Chaos = good

    /Hail Eris!

  19. Jake Boone, you have a great future in the California construction industry.

    The amusing part is that people think that large private sector developers and the zoning boards who permit their projects disagree on the fundamentals of how places should be built.

  20. Funny, then, how the pattern for those projects was based on similar projects built entirely by the private sector, based on designs created by private-sector architects, building what they wanted when left to their own devices.

    Yep, and if one person chose to do it, then everybody else should be forced to do it, because all people like the same thing!

  21. I’ll tell you, it’s almost as if there are issues that don’t boil down the pet theories of libertarians with one-track-minds.

    *gets popcorn*

  22. Some truth to both, the question is not whether or not the market would fail to provide areas like South Orange County Ca without the boot up the butt, but whether government should provide the boot if the market does not provide what the anointed few think the rest of us should have.

    And for the record, So OC is gorgeous and planned but most of us can’t afford to live there. Nice to drive through though. Except that, despite all the planning, the traffic is miserable.

  23. Jake, looks like Jennifer can write your promotional materials.

    Here at Boone’s Meadow Farmwoods, we pride ourselves on the strict uniformity of our HOA regulations…

  24. Q: Are “the annointed few” in TWC’s comment the developers, or the zoning board?

    A: Yes.

  25. Typical H&R thread.

    Hey look at this, kinda cool huh.

    Intervening posts.

    Extremist bickering.

  26. Q: Are “the annointed few” in TWC’s comment the developers, or the zoning board? A: Yes.

    If only there were some way to limit the ability of sleazy developers to get in bed with local government. Some way to make it so that there was no power to try and steal in the first place. But no: government organizations telling you what sort of house you can or cannot live in is absolutely necessary, and if such groups go corrupt that just means we haven’t found the right person to give this power to.

    Joe, you know perfectly well that shipping containers might help solve housing shortages in other countries, but they won’t here in America because local governments won’t allow it.

  27. Jake Boone, you have a great future in the California construction industry.

    Jake, looks like Jennifer can write your promotional materials.

    Woohoo! C’mon, Jennifer, we’ll be rich! And we’ll have HOA rules requiring the homeowners to take it in turns to fan us with palm fronds and feed us peeled grapes!

  28. Uh, yeah, a developer who decides he’s going to build everything the same on his 100 acre project, and to lay it out in the most tedious, rigid manner imaginable, to achieve greater efficiency, sure has stolen power.

    Private sector bland uniformity is just so much more dynamic than public sector bland uniformity. Wow, I sure am glad every townhouse in this 3000 unit project is beige because the developer got a deal on paint, and not because the government made him.

    Joe, you know perfectly well that shipping containers might help solve housing shortages in other countries, but they won’t here in America because local governments won’t allow it. Yes, Jennifer. What I don’t know perfectly well is what the hell this has to do with anything I wrote.

    Let’s recall, shall we, that the comment I made was an approving observation about using shipping containers to built a mall.

  29. The amusing part is that people think that large private sector developers and the zoning boards who permit their projects disagree on the fundamentals of how places should be built.

    Ah, suburbia, how I despise thee. By the way, is it a zoning law thing that new developments are required to be named after what they replaced? Running Deer Estates, Oak Woods Manor, etc.

  30. the pet theories of libertarians big-government apologists with one-track-minds.

  31. Warty,

    I guess Farmer Jones has decided to raise McMansions this season.

    Hey, P Brooks, what was the first comment I wrote on this thread?

  32. Give up?

    About the “mall” – the places that are the most intimate, humane, and friendly to a person walking around look like a ragged mess from the sky. It’s the places that look all neat and orderly from a bird’s eye view that make for the meost depressing, oppressive experiences.

    Look and the street plans of old cities vs. the 60s-era urban renewal projects that replaces them

  33. But, you got me. What I really meant was “Go go government! Impose that rigid uniform plan!

  34. The irony is too delicious.

    The (former) government planner writes a comment applauding variety and messiness, and holds out the imposition of rigid uniformity by governmen that ignores specific conditions and the benefits of specificity and uniqueness…

    And the libertarians can’t tailor their rigid, uniform criticism to recognize the specific meaning of that comment, and lay down the same old same old gripe they would hurl at someone who had said exactly the opposite.

  35. I got an email recently from an old professor. A company here in Houston had an opening for a project manager. Their entire business is retrofitting shipping containers into habitable structures. Offices, living quarters, storerooms, you name it.

    One reason people are doing this is because once-used shipping container are cheap. An 8′ x 40′ guaranteed win and water tight container cost me $2400 delivered a month ago.

  36. yeah…
    I thought it was well established that joe wasn’t for a lot of zoning regs.

    I don’t understand the confusion here.

  37. T – do you have the name of that company or their email address?

  38. Oh, and at any rate.

    Shipping containers. Awesome. If somethings going to be built kinda ugly, at least it should be done on the cheap out of shipping containers, and not more expensive like that fake stucco garbage that developers use on every other building.

  39. crap. s/b …or their website?

  40. I actually got fired my last planning job, largely for not fighting enough to stop affordable housing projects that were inconsistent with the richy-rich McMansion aesthetic of the suburban snobs I worked for…

    but some people are just more comfortable with putting everything neatly in its little box than with complexity, I guess.

  41. I’ll tell you, it’s almost as if there are issues that don’t boil down the pet theories of libertarians with one-track-minds.

    You’re right, joe. We shouldn’t be talking about libertarianism on a freegin’ libertarian blog.

  42. Woohoo! C’mon, Jennifer, we’ll be rich! And we’ll have HOA rules requiring the homeowners to take it in turns to fan us with palm fronds and feed us peeled grapes!

    But won’t our conspiratorial tactics come to light then? I mean, if you and I both noticed the same logical flaw in Joe’s “one for all” defense of planning, that can ONLY mean we were in secret communication beforehand.

  43. I actually got fired my last planning job, largely for not fighting enough to stop affordable housing projects that were inconsistent with the richy-rich McMansion aesthetic of the suburban snobs I worked for…

    If this is true, then I sincerely admire you at least for that if nothing else. And yet, if a planner can be fired for trying to “allow” poor people to “legally” buy an affordable house, I consider that more evidence that planners overall do more harm than good.

  44. About the “mall” – the places that are the most intimate, humane, and friendly to a person walking around look like a ragged mess from the sky. It’s the places that look all neat and orderly from a bird’s eye view that make for the meost depressing, oppressive experiences.

    Weekly Agreement! (Whew – I was running out of time this week).

    Shipping containers are teh awesome for lots of things. They are weather and vermin-proof, for starters, EZ to modify for storage, living, and mixed use, and are (by definition) transportable. I hope to have an urgent need for a hunting cabin soon, and they are at the top of my list.

  45. Joe’s “one for all” defense of planning

    Once again, for the slower among us:

    joe | January 11, 2008, 11:17am | #

    About the “mall” – the places that are the most intimate, humane, and friendly to a person walking around look like a ragged mess from the sky. It’s the places that look all neat and orderly from a bird’s eye view that make for the meost depressing, oppressive experiences.

    Look and the street plans of old cities vs. the 60s-era urban renewal projects that replaces them.

    BTW, the planners agreed with me, but gave into the pressure from the politcians.

  46. Think she’ll get it yet?

  47. BP,

    It’s here. I would love to have one set up as a workshop like some of their photos show, but since I’m moving, it’s not to be.

  48. Shipping containers are teh awesome for lots of things. They are weather and vermin-proof, for starters, EZ to modify for storage, living, and mixed use, and are (by definition) transportable. I hope to have an urgent need for a hunting cabin soon, and they are at the top of my list.

    …and if you think they’re too ugly, you just cover them with Warty’s fake plastic “stucco” stuff.

  49. joe,

    We (meaning me) have all been agreeing with your first comment. I dont know why you are getting so huffy.

  50. robc,

    Your comment actually warrants a serious response.

    Things that look all neat and orderly from a bird’s eye view, like the federal reserve, make for the most depressing, oppressive experiences.

    However, things that look like a ragged mess, like an economy running all willy-nilly without the Fed turns out to be the more intimate, humane and friendly.

    I don’t think the Fed is a good example of what you’re going for, but I agree with the sentiment completely. Control-freak central planning of the economy, like control-freak zoning, bulldozes through too much that depends on delicate connections to ever be truly humane. In economic affairs, as in planning, it is better to use a light touch, to smooth off just the sharpest of rough corners.

    And you are correct, I bulldozed all y’all into the same pile, when it was only a couple of you who deserved it. My apologies.

  51. BTW, the planners agreed with me, but gave into the pressure from the politcians.

    It shouldn’t be any of the politicians’ damned business how big a house is or what color it’s painted. And “planners” should only be hired by the people who actually own the property in need of planning. It shouldn’t be a government position paid by tax dollars, and DAMN sure shouldn’t have actual legal authority over anyone.

    Think she’ll get it yet?

    Far sooner than you are ever likely to “get” the point people here try to make again and again: that certain decisions which are perfectly cromulent when made by private entities on their own behalf are NOT acceptable when made by the government and forced on individuals whether they want it or not.

    If YOU want to buy a piece of land and cover it with McMansions, go right ahead. It’s the government mandating McMansions, or anything else, that’s the problem. Now do you get it?

  52. I think the people you are bulldozing actually agreed with your 1st comment too.

  53. Does the retractable part of the retractable cafe feature a toilet?

  54. Are you allowed to use cromulent in a thread before someone uses embiggens?

  55. T – thx. In the interim, I googled “Houston container house”. Turned out to be a pretty good guess.

    I might be ordering one in a few months. What a great idea.

  56. At the risk of displaying my ignorance of libertarian 101, Jennifer, you’d believe that anyone should be able to build (or knock down) anything on any land they own – no restrictions at all?

  57. I’m in the beautiful, planned, but currently barely functional center of Odessa right now. To be fair half of the reason it’s barely functional is not the planning, but the century or so of underinvestment in maintenance. The other half (traffic) might also be due to a lack of planning. Although, one could argue that the centralized planning in Moscow screwed up the potential for private investment and regional planning here. This stuff is complicated to think about.

    Anyway, I’m going to have to get out and visit the “Mall of Ukraine” now that I know about it. It can’t be nearly as annoying as the one in Minnesota. Do you suppose they take Visa? On second thought, I’m sure someone would take it.

  58. DavidS,

    you’d believe that anyone should be able to build (or knock down) anything on any land they own – no restrictions at all?

    Thats pretty much the definition of “ownership”.

  59. …and if you think they’re too ugly, you just cover them with Warty’s fake plastic “stucco” stuff.

    Reinmoose’s plastic stucco garbage. I’m in charge of naming the container development Strawberry Farms or something.

  60. It shouldn’t be any of the politicians’ damned business how big a house is or what color it’s painted. And “planners” should only be hired by the people who actually own the property in need of planning. It shouldn’t be a government position paid by tax dollars, and DAMN sure shouldn’t have actual legal authority over anyone.

    It’s always the people who know the least about a subject who stake out the most extremist positions on it.

  61. Warty,

    Strawberry Farms. Boone Hill. I like em. I wonder what TWC will think?

  62. Oops, sorry, Warty.

    One thing for sure: if the word “Hills” in in there somewhere, that land has been graded to a Kansas-like evenness.

  63. Joe,

    It’s always the people who know the least about a subject who stake out the most extremist positions on it.

    That was a moderate position. The most extremist position would be that all current or former planners should be drawn and quartered.

    I (and probably Jennifer) dont think you should be d&qed. See, we are moderates.

  64. robc

    Was just checking before I jumped to any assumptions…

    Because I guess that’s when the libertarian bumps up against the conservative bit that most people have somewhere – when faced by the loss of much loved buildings that they happen not to own.

  65. DavidS,

    when faced by the loss of much loved buildings that they happen not to own.

    Yep. And it sucks. There is a solution though: pony up the dough and buy the building.

  66. Shipping containers are teh awesome for lots of things. They are weather and vermin-proof, for starters, EZ to modify for storage, living, and mixed use, and are (by definition) transportable. I hope to have an urgent need for a hunting cabin soon, and they are at the top of my list.

    R C Dean,

    I’m jealous. I may have to buy some hunting land just to do this sort of thing.

    Mike Laursen,

    Thanks! Cool site.

    I’ve always been very intrigued by “alternative” housing structures. Whenever there’s someting on History / Discovery ‘ Science channels on converted missle silo sites, fire lookouts, tree houses, domes, converted churches or whatnot I’m totally fascinated and envious.

  67. Warty – don’t forget to include “Glen” in the name. It can’t be a suburban development without “Glen”.

    Strawberry Farms Glen
    Glen Hills
    Glen Ridge Fields
    Wastewater Treatment Plant #6 Glen
    Dunlap Country Correctional Facility Glen

  68. robc

    That doesn’t really work when you’d need to pony up for all the buildings… say here

  69. It’s been a while since I read Snow Crash, but it seems to me that the people who couldn’t afford to live in burbclaves lived in shipping containers. Or maybe it was self-storage units, whatever.

    You may now return to attacking the joe who lives in your heads. That guy’s a fucking dick.

  70. DavidS,

    Im sure Bill Gates or Warren Buffett could afford to buy them all. You just need to work harder. Or smarter. Or something. When you figure it out, let me know.

  71. I suppose it would be possible to have a planning profession that dealt only with the layout and design of public infrastructure. That was most of what I did when I worked for a city, before I made the mistake of following the money to a suburb.

    Such a thing has never existed in the history of human settlement, so no, it’s probably best not a view as a moral failure that fact that someone would actually take it on himself to promote more dynamism-friendly practices that come up short of some ahistorical ideal, or to ignorantly assert one’s moral superiority for never getting one’s hands dirty enough to actually accomplish anything.

  72. Joe,

    At 11:38 you wrote:

    The amusing part is that people think that large private sector developers and the zoning boards who permit their projects disagree on the fundamentals of how places should be built.

    I’m wondering what you meant by “the fundamentals”?

  73. robc

    How about if all the people in a town banded together to make decisions that protected buildings like these?

    We could call it something like a ‘planning committee’?

  74. DavidS,

    As long as the owners of the properties are members of the committee, I have no problem with it. Or, the current owners could put deed restrictions on it, meaning any new owners are restricted, just like with HOAs.

  75. Jeff S.,

    I was thinking of the design features and theory, such as uber-wide streets, single-use zoning, little or no variation in building design, superblocks instead of real blocks, cul-de-sac/artery design instead of broader connectiveness…that sort of thing.

  76. Joe: I didn’t realize that you weren’t a planner anymore. What are you doing now?

    Shawn: If you do make it to the mall, let us know what you find there.

  77. At the risk of displaying my ignorance of libertarian 101, Jennifer, you’d believe that anyone should be able to build (or knock down) anything on any land they own – no restrictions at all?

    No, I’m not calling for an end to ALL zoning restrictions; I think they should only be used to prevent demonstrable harm, not to enforce someone’s aesthetic ideal. I support, for example, laws which state that you have to have a septic tank or a sewer hookup rather than an outhouse, because an outhouse in your suburban or urban backyard would definitely cause harm to your neighbors. And I’d agree with laws like “No building a skyscraper tall enough to blot out the sun from the rest of this residential neighborhood.”

    But that’s entirely different from the sort of planning Joe often argues in favor of: let the government decide how many buildings will be in a given area, and what the buildings will look like, and what they’ll be used for, and how many people are allowed to live in each one. . . no.

  78. Jesse,

    I help evil corporations get their environmental permits and comply with regulations.

    I spend most of my time producing plans that allow cell phone carriers to demonstrate that their installations won’t cook people.

    I also get to fly helium balloons for visibility tests.

  79. An outhouse on a half-acre suburban lot would cause harm to absolutely no one. Objections to such a setup are purely aesthetic.

  80. An outhouse on a half-acre suburban lot would cause harm to absolutely no one.

    Then I rephrase my previous statement: if there will be no flies, stenches or anything else drifting over your property line and onto your neighbors’, then I say do away with anti-outhouse laws as well. That will provide one more useful indicator of which neighborhoods would not be a good fit for me.

  81. Objections to “stenches” are purely aesthetic.

  82. I also get to fly helium balloons for visibility tests.

    Hey there, Blimpyboy! Flyin’ through the sky so fancy-free!

  83. Jennifer – What if you knocking down/altering your property was going to substantially reduce the value of mine?

  84. There is(was?) the Berkeley Shipyard, an artists community in Berkeley, CA where artists would rent shipping containers as studio spaces.

    It was closed about a year ago due to “ordinance violations”. Most of said violations (PDF 37mb) result from the construction and wiring of The Shipyard without permits.

  85. We can do this all day. The upshot is that the line between “harm” and “unpleasantness” is much less clear in practice than in theory.

    How about if the layout of a community is going to cause me to breathe more carbon monoxide, because it requires people to drive everywhere?

  86. Joe,

    I largely agree with your point then, although here in California that form, while still predominant, has ceded much ground, especially within and at the edges of population centers. However, when new projects of any significant size are built that include, say, more neotraditional standards, they still appear more uniform, or standardized, than not. It’s as if your 3000 unit TH project were painted beige and pink (exagerrating to make my point).

  87. Jennifer | January 11, 2008, 1:15pm | #
    [Outhouses on a property] will provide one more useful indicator of which neighborhoods would not be a good fit for me.

    Hrrm, remind me to not invite you to my cousin’s, ahhh, “rustic retreat”. A cabin on 20 acres of land 30 miles from the nearest road. Yeah, there’s no such thing as “septic pumping” there. It’s hand pumped water and outhouse all the way.

  88. don’t forget to include “Glen” in the name. It can’t be a suburban development without “Glen”.

    When I was a wee lad in the suburban wasteland between Cincinnati and Dayton, I saw very few “Glen” developments. The most common names were “Woods” (where, inevitably, all vegetation had been destroyed, the land graded to absolute flatness and the topsoil trucked off and sold), “Creek” (the creeks tended to be rerouted into underground PVC pipes), or some animal: I remember “Running Deer Estates” quite vividly. Of course, you’d be hard pressed to find a square angle in any of these Estates.

    Good thing those suburbs have lots of rich girls who hate daddy; otherwise they’d be completely worthless.

  89. Hrrm, remind me to not invite you to my cousin’s, ahhh, “rustic retreat”. A cabin on 20 acres of land 30 miles from the nearest road. Yeah, there’s no such thing as “septic pumping” there. It’s hand pumped water and outhouse all the way.

    Where is this earthly paradise? I want to buy it.

  90. I mean it, Jesse. Cell phone carriers are the friggin devil. Some of ’em, anyway.

    Not because they provide cell phone service or build towers, either.

    The cell phone industry and the paper industry, I don’t know what the deal is.

  91. Objections to “stenches” are purely aesthetic.

    No, Joe, there are actual biological reasons why we’re wired to dislike the smell of old urine and rotting feces–because these substances are actually unhealthy for us.

    Jennifer – What if you knocking down/altering your property was going to substantially reduce the value of mine?

    Defending property rights is a legitimate function of government. Defending property values is not.

  92. Objections to “stenches” are purely aesthetic.

    Ever driven by a “factory” pig farm (aka CAFO)? Imagine if you lived next door to one. Some states have hydrogen sulfide and carbon monoxide restriction on feeder operations.

  93. Jeff S.,

    It’s as if your 3000 unit TH project were painted beige and pink (exagerrating to make my point).

    Yes, exactly. In the contest between soulless uniformity and dynamism, humanity, and uniqueness, the significant variable is not government vs. no government. It’s large-scale vs. small scale. The big development corporations – Levitt, or American Homes – aren’t rebelling agains the sprawlly zoning codes. They wrote them, and their employees sit on the zoning boards.

  94. I spend most of my time producing plans that allow cell phone carriers to demonstrate that their installations won’t cook people.

    joe, is that really how you spend most of your time?

  95. No, Joe, there are actual biological reasons why we’re wired to dislike the smell of old urine and rotting feces–because these substances are actually unhealthy for us.

    Sure, Jennifer, but you didn’t write “if urine and feces come onto my property.” You wrote “stench.” You can smell an outhouse in the summer even if you are 1000 feet away from urine and feces completely enclosed in a pit. You’re basing your objection purely on the aesthetic intrustion, just like the guy who hates purple houses.

  96. However, when new projects of any significant size are built that include, say, more neotraditional standards, they still appear more uniform, or standardized, than not.

    There’s nothing wrong with standardization. I never understood that particular gripe about the ‘burbs. Some of the most attractive, liveliest city streets are uniform, too. Rather, it’s the total reliance on the automobile that is the major drawback, causing all kinds of problems like traffic, pollution, bored kids…

  97. don’t forget to include “Glen” in the name. It can’t be a suburban development without “Glen”….

    Good thing those suburbs have lots of rich girls who hate daddy; otherwise they’d be completely worthless.

    In London in the 1960s, one of the Council’s built a truly stupendously ugly public housing estate which they called De Beauvoir town in homage to one of their French, feminist heroine (have a look).

    Unfortunately, the residents don’t speak much French and it’s since been called D’Beaver town, which has – you will probably be aware – quite different connotations

  98. Rhwuyn,

    I think I know what you mean – nice little streets of uniform row houses, for example. The repeated pattern can be quite pleasing.

    But there is a difference between a couple blocks of uniform row houses, and hundreds of acres of identical streets.

  99. Sure, Jennifer, but you didn’t write “if urine and feces come onto my property.” You wrote “stench.” You can smell an outhouse in the summer even if you are 1000 feet away from urine and feces completely enclosed in a pit. You’re basing your objection purely on the aesthetic intrustion, just like the guy who hates purple houses.

    Joe, if you want to pretend that smelling shit is no different from merely thinking “That paintjob looks like shit,” continue to do so; I’m sure it will be just as persuasive as your other “everyone here is wrong except me” arguments.

  100. I think I know what you mean – nice little streets of uniform row houses, for example. The repeated pattern can be quite pleasing.

    But there is a difference between a couple blocks of uniform row houses, and hundreds of acres of identical streets.

    Not always true. Some of the most beautiful cities in the world are highly uniform.

  101. “Joe, if you want to pretend that smelling shit is no different from merely thinking “That paintjob looks like shit,” continue to do so; I’m sure it will be just as persuasive as your other “everyone here is wrong except me” arguments.”

    Here we go!

    *grabs popcorn*

  102. DavidS,

    What if you knocking down/altering your property was going to substantially reduce the value of mine?

    I keep answering questions you throw at Jennifer. But, that was a risk that you should have valued into the scenario when you bought your property.

    I have this exact situation with the house I bought in October. Next to me is a small undeveloped lot. 2 blocks away at the entrance to my street, there are 3 small shotgun houses on lots about the size of the one next to me. I bought my place understanding the risk of there being a small house built right next door. I think this would lower my property value. What am I doing about it? Im saving up so I can make an offer to the lot owner to buy it.

  103. I’m sure it will be just as persuasive as your other “everyone here is wrong except me” arguments.

    So smell of shit is special? What about other smells – say a tannery (probably the stimulus for the earliest zoning laws)?

    And smell trumps other senses? What about loss of light if my skyscraper towers over your cottage? Or noise? If my factory intrudes on your sleep?

  104. Sorry, Miggs, not today.

  105. And smell trumps other senses? What about loss of light if my skyscraper towers over your cottage? Or noise? If my factory intrudes on your sleep?

    Read again, David: I already answered your skyscraper question in a previous comment. As for the factory, that would (IMO) be a legitimate complaint, as constant loud noises while you’re trying to sleep is an actual biological problem. As I said before, I oppose zoning over things like size of houses, how many people are allowed to live there, and so forth.

  106. joe | January 11, 2008, 1:26pm | #
    I mean it, Jesse. Cell phone carriers are the friggin devil.

    As a former contractor for Sprint I’m going to agree with you 100% on that point. However, I’ve worked at quite a number of organizations over the years and a lot of them are either the devil or at least warm, red and sprouting horns.

    I’ve tried to find the pattern and the two factors that seem to be consistent in making places hell are large size and lack of competition. With the major phone companies (and pretty much all infrastructure providers), you get both.

  107. Joe,

    Size does seem to be the key determinant. But the smaller projects with the physical features that make it seem dynamic are almost always infill, and mainly in denser areas.

    People like those old residential neighborhoods where the original topography was left largely undisturbed, where each house is architecturally different, and from where you can walk to shopping, etc. But that pattern of development is gone forever (excepting some very pricey new stuff).

    I suppose no one has ever got you to reconsider in part the belief in “the soulless uniformity” of suburbia?

  108. robc

    I am so far from being a libertarian that I’m a… European.

    But that means – along with various other sufferings – I spend a lot of time in cities that are heavily protected.

    It’s just really really hard for me to imagine living in a world where anyone could buy a medieval house in, say, Siena, knock it down and build a dozen flats.

    (Picking Siena because it has almost no modern buildings in the historical centre.)

    I know this will sound dopey to everyone here – but I guess more people (in our false consciousness) think like me than like you.

  109. DavidS,

    Reality is that more people do think like you.

    I would just suggest that most Sienese feel the same way and would happily put a deed restriction on their property to prevent the same things whatever laws exist would do. There is a non-governmental solution.

  110. DavidS,

    I lived in small Swiss town at one time. Im just as big a fan of the buildings. Im just able to hold “what I like” and “what I think the law should be” in different sections of my brain.

    This applies to lots of issues.

  111. robc

    But don’t we just then end up – a couple of hundred years down the line – in thrall to the dead, rather than to government?

  112. DavidS,

    But don’t we just then end up – a couple of hundred years down the line – in thrall to the dead, rather than to government?

    Yeah, there is that problem. However, the dead rarely change their mind.

    Obviously, the answer is to form something like an HOA. Whether that is just another form of government is an argument Im not going to participate in today (I say no). Fortunately, Dan T. isnt around to disagree with me.

  113. I oppose zoning over things like size of houses, how many people are allowed to live there, and so forth.

    In Queens there’s been a lot of brouhaha lately over the fact that immigrants are squeezing many more people into houses than they were designed for. Is it acceptable to zone against that?

    happily put a deed restriction on their property to prevent the same things whatever laws exist would do

    That works for owner-occupied areas. Not so much where it’s all renters. A good reason to buy, sure; unless the average home starts at around $500,000.

  114. Slaves to the Unliving? I think I saw that movie once.
    More seriously, I know we have some smart legal types around here. Is there a way to have deed restrictions removed?

  115. Now I know where J. Neil Schulman shops!

  116. So I’ve collected each of the issues Jennifer has raised as legitimate and illegitimate. Try to fit each one neatly into the categories “aesthetic” vs. “harm.”

    tall enough to blot out the sun from the rest of this residential neighborhood.

    no flies

    stenches

    property values

    noises

    Density of lot coverage how many buildings

    Density of populationhow many people

    what the building looks like

    Those last three are actually descriptions of the land use, not issues produced by that land use, so you’ll have to imagine what impacts they could have.

    As a starting point, Jennifer identified smells, shadow, flies, and noises as harms; and values, appearance, and density as non-harms.

    My question about whether my neighbor’s development causes carbon monoxide levels to increase on my property was left unanswered.

    Whether your neighbor’s cooking is a stench is another question.

    Good luck.

  117. Joe, if you want to pretend that smelling shit is no different from merely thinking “That paintjob looks like shit,” continue to do so; I’m sure it will be just as persuasive as your other “everyone here is wrong except me” arguments.

    And here she acknowledges that her distinctions are subjective, yet she is comfortable putting them into the law.

  118. Jeff S.,

    Suburbs can be built as soullessly uniform, or as dynamic, as the builders decide. So can cities.

  119. If dead people deciding we’re going to live in a city of Georgian houses on pedestrian-scale streets is slavery, than isn’t living people deciding we’re going to live in a city of high rises equally slavery?

  120. Did the living get together and collectively force property owners to build skyscrapers? If so, then it’s at least tyranny, if not outright slavery.

    The dead in my neck of the woods either rot peacefully or shamble and shout for brains. Not much coercion on the real estate front in either case.

  121. When I was a wee lad in the suburban wasteland between Cincinnati and Dayton, I saw very few “Glen” developments.

    Must be a Florida thing. We have very few “Woods” here, despite the fact that we do have woods here.

  122. And here she acknowledges that her distinctions are subjective, yet she is comfortable putting them into the law.

    No, Joe, you’re the one arguing in favor of a big strong government telling people what kind of buildings they can and cannot build, and what the density should be, and so on and so forth.

    Isn’t this about when you’re supposed to type “I PWNED THIS THREAD” over and over and over again? I thought it was so cute, last time you did that. And bless your little heart, you even believed it, didn’t you?

  123. Holy hostility, Batman! If I’d have known it was going to be this contentious, I’d have paid some attention to this thread.

    Does anyone else find in interesting that shipping containers are not worth being returned empty?

  124. Does anyone else find in interesting that shipping containers are not worth being returned empty?

    Seems like there would be some low-cost way to return them or sell them at some other port. I wonder if any third-world entrepreneurs have tried outfitting a cargo containers with sails.

  125. Suburban neighborhoods may start out with all of the houses looking alike, but visit one that’s been around for 50 years and you may see lots of modifications of widely varying levels of aesthetic taste. Technically, my neighborhood has CC&Rs, but they were forgotten about long ago.

  126. Jennifer, I think your position is kind of extreme. Zoning arose because the variety in kind and size of buildings we could build vastly increased with the Industrial Revolution, along with a decline in the livability in cities. Yes, it can be used for good or bad, but for every instance of “bad” you raise, I can raise two or three “good”. That is why there is no great clamoring among the masses for an end to zoning.

  127. Does anyone else find in interesting that shipping containers are not worth being returned empty?

    I too was wondering where all these empty shipping containers were coming from. I just assumed they were re-used. But I bet America probably ships out far less in weight than it receives so we probably get stuck with all the empties.

  128. Suburban neighborhoods may start out with all of the houses looking alike, but visit one that’s been around for 50 years and you may see lots of modifications of widely varying levels of aesthetic taste.

    Yeah. Levittown doesn’t look at all like it did when it was built.

  129. No one has answered me about the toilet in the cafe.

    What the hell is up with that toilet?

  130. No, Joe, you’re the one arguing in favor of a big strong government telling people what kind of buildings they can and cannot build, and what the density should be, and so on and so forth

    Wah wah wah. Funny how you stopped trying to talk about development and laws, and decided to talk about me instead.

    At this point, there isn’t really any point to talking about pwnage, now is there?

  131. Somebody answer me!

    Is that a toilet in the middle of the retractable cafe?!

    If so, what the hell is it doing there?!

    He climb ladder to see girl in room. She make him crazy!

  132. Highnumber, I saw your posts, and my question is the exact same thing.

    Is that… a frigging ‘open air’ toilet that’s folding out?

  133. And where does it drain?!

  134. Does anyone else find in interesting that shipping containers are not worth being returned empty?

    They surely get reused some, but given that they need to survive crossing the ocean stacked a dozen or two high, the standards for allowable wear-and-tear are pretty tight.

    I’ve dreamed of doing something with containers for a while, but the apparent cost saving is partially if not fully offset by the fact that you can’t just finish them with stuff from Home Depot or it’ll look like something some guy did as a hobby, it’s only “cheap” compared to “traditional” high-end Modernist homes. And all they provide is a(really excessively)strong structure, if you need serious insulation you’ll basically build a regular stick-frame house inside them.

  135. No one else seems to care, Paul. What the hell kind of world are we living in?

  136. I’ve received 5 emails telling me that there’s a Friday Fun Link that I should put a New Wave Link in. Ok. They were kinda on the Ska side of New Wave but the song sure fits so here’s..

    Madness – “Our House”

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KEdZrV0j6zM

  137. “Shawn: If you do make it to the mall, let us know what you find there.”

    Ok, I went there this morning and bought a shirt ($30) and pair of shoes ($70).

    According to my sources (the bartender down the street from where I live):
    There are about 80,000 people working there.
    They have their own private medical, police and fire forces.
    Odessa is a major port and the goods typically come directly from China, etc.
    People come from all over the Ukraine to make shopping trips there. There is no other place in the Ukraine where one can buy the same variety of goods and the prices are better than traditional stores.

    A few observations:
    It is called simply 7KM. Mini-buses from the central train station take 20-30 minutes and cost $.60 each way. Not all of the structures are container-based. There are large corrugated metal buildings and many small kiosks as well. The main are does seem to be container-based, with rows of containers functioning much like aisles at the grocery store, but without quite as much organization. The aisles are color-coded, which helps with navigation. Each store consists of two containers stacked one on top of the other with the bottom one being the display and sales area and the top one being storage. There are small stairs or a ladder in the back. The container doors are kept open during business hours and used as display space. The aisles are about wide enough for two people to comfortably walk past each other. Although the ground in the aisles is paved, there’s a decent coating of mud everywhere.

    It reminds me a lot of the markets that you can see all over Europe, but huge and more permanent. Also, I didn’t notice a lot of haggling going on. Really, I’ve never seen anything that compares to it in scale. It’s bigger than the Mall of America and the product density is maximized. There’s no wasted space that I could see.

  138. main are = main area

  139. Shawn, that is amazing.

    Where did the 80,000 figure come from?

  140. “Where did the 80,000 figure come from?”

    Out of my source’s a**, I’m guessing, although he seems to be a reliable guy within his limits.

    If “traders” in the above article means stores, then 80,000 is easily reachable. If “traders” means people employed by the stores and the article is accurate, then I don’t see how you could get to 80,000. However, there are a lot of people around, doing a lot of little things. The Ukraine still has very cheap labor for many skill sets, so you tend to see people doing things like standing by a tiny cart that sells nothing but tea and hot instant coffee all day long.

  141. Thanks, Shawn. Very interesting.

  142. i mostly like this building

    http://www.twotimestwentyfeet.com/p/hilfiger_w2011

    Container buildings are a fascinating part of modern architecture. Maybe even of future Architecture.
    in particular in times of “green movement”

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