Aeon: Why there’s no place like home – for anyone, any more


Will Truman

Will Truman is the Editor-in-Chief of Ordinary Times. He is also on Twitter.

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26 Responses

  1. Avatar Jaybird says:

    The big thing that I noticed while reading that article was the absence of the whole “different people are different” thing.

    There are people who would thrive having a tiny home with a perfectly efficient bedroom/kitchen/library/armoire. There are people who would do well to go to such a room to sleep before bounding out of bed, getting dressed, and then leaving for 16 hours before doing it all over again. There are people for whom a tiny home would be a cruel and unusual punishment.

    This feels like yet another weaponization of a matter of taste.Report

  2. Avatar LeeEsq says:

    Seconding Jaybird. What is good housing for one person or family might be horrible for another person or family. A family with many kids might want a big house so it feels that everybody has space of their own. A couple whose kids are adults might want a condo in a warm weather climate because they don’t need space. Some people go straight to the suburbs and others spend their youth in the cities. There are arguments that can be made against big houses and McMansions but those are based on the environmental damage caused by them or the need for an adequate housing supply rather than anything philosophical. Philosophy is not a good basis for public policy.Report

  3. Avatar Kim says:

    Implausible to say that the Marx Brothers did not have a home, simply because they lived in a Tenement.
    Doubly so when one realizes that people choose to live in Tokyo, where the living quarters are just as small, if not smaller.Report

    • Avatar J_A says:

      As a person who didn’t live is a house until he was sixteen (and hated the two years experience while it lasted, and didn’t get to live in a house again until he was 43), I can assure you all, fellow Americans, it’s perfectly possible to grow up in an apartment, and run up and down the stairs and into neighbours houses, and carry your bicycle in the elevator on your way to the park with your friends.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        Apartments are generally larger than 300 sq. feet.Report

      • Avatar Saul Degraw says:


        LeeEsq has pointed out that apartments were very controversial when introduced to the United States because the Anglo-American ideal was single-family homes. So it is not like the suburbs are exactly an idea from the post-WWII era.

        The issue with houses is that they give you some space and privacy and not even McMansions. A friend in college grew up in NYU faculty apartments because his dad was on the faculty. He lived in a small two-bedroom apartment with his sister and parents. The parents had to put up a dividing wall so he and his sister could have separate rooms.

        I found it way too claustrophobic for four people in that apartment. Even your own room was not very private.

        I’m not a huge fan of McMansions but at a certain point, housing in a city becomes a luxury and you can get much more in the suburbs (even fancy ones) for much less money.
        I’d love a Brooklyn Brownstone but will probably never have the money to afford one and if it came to living in a small two-bedroom apartment with a family or a decent sized house in the burbs, to the burbs I go.Report

        • Avatar Kolohe says:

          Saul Degraw: LeeEsq has pointed out that apartments were very controversial when introduced to the United States because the Anglo-American ideal was single-family homes. So it is not like the suburbs are exactly an idea from the post-WWII era.


          (Though you’re correct that suburbs predate WWII. They go back to the trolley era, circa 1890, but had fits and starts due to repeated cycles of economic turmoil and war.)Report

          • Avatar Saul Degraw says:


            The really big apartment buildings like the Dakota for middle class and above people were not introduced until the late 1800s and they were controversial. Paris and apartment buildings of decent size for a long time before the United States and the middle and upper-classes lived in those apartment buildings as well.

            There was always the family that lived above their store or business but the other apartments were in the slums.Report

          • Avatar LeeEsq says:

            In Gotham: A History of New York To 1898, the authors pointed out that the earliest apartment buildings for middle class people rather than the poor where controversial because good Anglo-Protestant American families were supposed to live in single family homes. Building town house after town house was no longer feasible though and multi-family homes or apartment buildings were necessary. Other American cities could have the single family home as the main type of residential building because they had space.Report

        • Avatar J_A says:

          Two bedrooms with two different gender kids is pushing it up (*). Growing up, three bedrooms was the standard in our upper middle class family, with apartments sized between 800 to 1,200 sq ft in average. Me and most of my family and friends can vouch that it’s perfectly enough to raise a family. In Europe (and most of Latin America) the suburbs, as understood in the US (and the U.K. ) are (were) not common, at least while I was growing up. Nor were them an aspirational goal, frustrated by poverty. People really wanted to live in apartments (mostly owned, btw) in the city.

          (*) A friend’s reaction when finding out his second child will also be a girl was: “We saved the study room”. He is a bit of a nerd.Report

  4. Avatar Kolohe says:

    There may be some stuff in there that’s worthwhile, but the whole idea of a seperate places for work and living is largely an industrial revolution phenomenon, only made obvious and mainstream with the rise of automobile centric development.

    Back in the day, the king lived in the castle where he did business from the throne room, the guildsmen lived above or behind his shop, and the peasant lived in a hut next to the fields.

    Restoring paid work to the home is a return to normal in many ways, not an aberation.Report

  5. Avatar Jaybird says:

    One of the other things I notice is that I’m not entirely certain that I live in a community.

    I don’t know my neighbors. They don’t know me.

    When I was a kid, my next door neighbors were people with whom we did stuff all the time. The dad of the family in the house on the the left was a co-worker with my dad and they were besties. The daughter was a baby sitter for us. The family to the right went on vacation with us once.

    I look back on that now and think “THAT’S INSANE”.

    But that’s the neighborhood I grew up in.

    Maybe I’d have different attitudes toward my neighborhood if I had kids…Report

    • Avatar Kim says:

      Throw a block party. Do something so that you know your neighbors.
      They are your safety net — the people you may be handing out guns to, if the worst sort of shit hits the fan. In less bad times, they may be helping you with a sick child, or calling the cops if someone is stealing something when you’re not home.Report

    • Avatar Michael Cain says:

      Kids do help (and are a terrific excuse for a block party, a la Kim’s suggestion). So does having a dog/dogs to walk. So does doing outside yard work and shoveling snow yourself.Report

    • Avatar Burt Likko says:

      I’ve benefited greatly from getting to know my neighbors, and it’s likely most of you will too. It may be that your neighbors turn out to be assholes. But, while possible, that’s unlikely.Report

      • Avatar El Muneco says:

        I think the apartment building I live in is kind of like the mirror-universe version of the bar in “Cheers” – it’s where you go where you don’t want anyone to know your name. And when you change your mind, you move to someplace congenial.Report

    • Avatar El Muneco says:

      I don’t know my neighbors, much – we recognize each other and say “hi” but not more than that.
      I grew up as a free-range kid in the 70s well within the limits of a city that was starting to flex its wings, and – I didn’t know our neighbors much, even the ones I delivered papers to. My parents did, but beyond the immediate next-door neighbors, there wasn’t much there. I didn’t even play much with the few kids my age.
      It certainly was far from universal, even in decidedly urban areas.Report

    • Avatar veronica d says:

      I live in an old New England triple-decker, so I know my direct neighbors inasmuch as we share space in the cellar for laundry and stuff. The folks on the first floor are working class Irish, mom, dad, and kid, plus sometimes they have other people staying with them. I don’t know them very well, other than to say hi to. They’re nice. The landlord has some sort of arrangement with them that they shovel the snow and deal with the garbage cans and stuff. On the second floor lives a pretty young nurse. For a while a guy lived with her. He’s long gone. Then a roommate. She’s long gone. Then her dad, who would get high all day and call me “dude.” He’s gone. Now I guess she’s alone. I’m on the third floor, along with my ex-wife. Her boy friend is here a lot (and she’s over at his a lot). My g/f stays here a couple nights a week.

      Do I “know” my neighbors? Not really. They seem nice enough. I’m pretty sure the folks on the first floor find me shockingly weird. The nurse lady seems a bit put off by me (which surprises me actually, but whatever).

      Across the street lives a cute gay boy who makes art and waits tables at the local posh gentrified watering hole. He’s a sweetie. So I guess I know him well enough. We’re Facebook friends. Sometimes he invites me to some cool event.

      I kinda know a lot of the service workers in the restaurants around here, but only to say hi to.

      There is one other trans woman in the neighborhood. She’s really nice, but very different from me. We say hi when we run into each other, but don’t really hang out.

      It seems a lot of people recognize me, in that I’ll run into people and they’ll say, “Hey, don’t you live in Savin Hill? I see you on the subway.” Cuz I’m faceblind, I almost never recognize them back.

      So yeah, I’m pretty isolated in my space. Most of my friendship network is across the river in Camberville.Report

  6. Avatar Chip Daniels says:

    It’s just one symptom of a much wider and intensifying search for belonging, which makes home as important to politics as the idea of class or rights – especially now, when so many people feel displaced, both literally and figuratively, by life in innovation-driven, high-tech, networked capitalism.

    Ironic, isn’t it, that the “innovation-driven, high-tech, networked capitalism” is always sold to us as something wonderful, filled with opportunity and promise and fulfillment.

    Yet here it is, laid out as a driver of our contemporary angst and providing the fuel for rage and ethnocentrism, to the point where the author suggests we re-read Heidegger, to understand Nazi-era turmoil.

    The author doesn’t seem to take notice of the displacement of the home being tied to economic stress.
    The way he writes it, young people use WeLive, renting tiny spaces for no reason other than a hip new trend, like beards or baggy pants.

    Its almost like reading an essay from 1933 in which he describes a hip new trend of people like the Joads leaving their old fashioned home for a thrilling new existence on Route 66, or a tenement widow taking in laundry as part of a hip new entrepreneurial class.Report

  7. Avatar Damon says:

    My ideal of a “home” is as follows: A complete section of land with a high wall topped by razor wire–electrified.

    I don’t know my neighbors well and they don’t know me. I have no real interest in knowing them. I am polite and engage them in conversation when I run into them, but have no interest in socializing with them for any duration. A home is a refuge from the idiots and assholes I have to deal with each day on the way to work, and in the rest of my life. Only those I want to let in come in.

    Your desires may vary.Report

  8. Avatar Saul Degraw says:

    Another way to look at this is also through the Oakland warehouse fire that happened last weekend. A lot of those live/work spaces exist because people cannot afford homes in the Bay Area but they are also looking for a very different sense of community than I am.

    I like living on my own or with immediate family only. Living with friends or random strangers from Craigslist does not sound good to me.Report