The random thoughts of an architect-turned- lawyer from the deep south living in Washington, DC...

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Urban Sprawl

I am finally getting around to reading The Da Vinci Code. As I am engulfed in the chase around historic cities and references to various architectural masterpieces in the forms of both Churches and urban layouts, something hit me upside the head...I am in Houston! When I was in my fourth year of Arch. school, we learned of precision with which so many wonderful pieces of art and architecture were planned. Aside from all of the cities abroad, we did study some cities in the US. We learned about the grid of NYC and the French and English influence that was 'ruined' by the American way. We learned of how Savannah, GA strategically placed their squares to enable their soldiers to communicate of approaching danger. My favorite, of course, was learning of Washington, DC being built from memory after the original architect of the city lost himself. In the end, there was always a slide of Houston. Houston, TX...what happens when a city is not planned. My urban design professor always relied on Houston to teach us what urban sprawl was. I see it clearly now.

Since HDOT has decided to plow a new highway through my brother's neighborhood, he is looking to move his family. Of course, it would seem only logical in such a city to move outward. We went to look at houses the other day. Noticing my brother's excitement for this new venture of his, I had to work hard to contain my general disgust at the concept of cookie cutter homes. Not just one or two, though. There are neighborhoods upon neighborhoods of these little pre-designed villages. I guess it is not quite as bad as it could be. I just hastily got excited when he said "we are probably going to build." I didn't realize he meant "we are probably going to find a neighborhood with 60 empty lots and no trees, pick one of five designs from show-houses and fill out a checklist of colors and materials for our home." (At least these neighborhoods have a rule that you cannot place any two same-type houses within a certain distance to ...um...maintain character.)

We went into about four of these show-homes. Of course, they are decorated to an extravagant degree in the hopes that someone will walk in and immediately fall in love with the house failing to realize the Titanic themed media room is a custom add-on. Sorry, they call them upgrades. (Much like a CD player in a car.) The houses are not actually THAT bad. We went into a two story house that was pretty unreal. I think there were four or five bedrooms and a study. The living area was two stories in hieght with windows overlooking a large plush green backyard. There was also a catwalk of sorts intersecting and overlooking the living room on its way to the play room, which was on the other side of the media center. The kitchen was huge and, of course, there were two seperate dining rooms because you just never know who you will be entertaining. As brother and I descended the spiral staircase into the foyer, I inquired about price. This, being the most expensive and "upgraded" of the houses, would break $200,000. I gasped! Considering I have a friend who recently bought a two bedroom apartment in an old building outside of DC for $250k! Brother looked at me and said, "so, I guess urban sprawl isn't all THAT bad."