Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Please Turn Out The Lights

Photo courtesy Flickr

The recent Boeing machinist’s union vote brought back memories of Seattle in 1970. The local version of the Concorde had failed to materialize, and property values plummeted. In 1970, Boeing had bet the company on its supersonic transport. The machinists appear to have bet the union on their recent ballot.

In ’70, I could have bought a waterfront bungalow a few doors south of Jeanette Rockefeller for $26k. Every local had a could-have story, and quite a few did. As local news covered the recent voting process, I found myself wondering whether the membership was old enough to recall 1970. 

Visualizing a worst-case real estate scenario in the suburbs, I wonder whether property values will hold here in the center of town close to the digital employment that has transformed the city. Tiny rental units within walking distance of work are popular (neighbors moved fifteen blocks west to halve their commute). Concentrating population in the urbs is a conscious strategy for reducing the number of people the environment must carry in the next century.

When mass suburbs were new, a free-standing single family home was intended to be nearly self-sufficient. World War Two had taught the value of access to cropland and of a haven out of harm’s way for starving city dwellers flinching at bombs and artillery. Dear friends and role models defied convention and raised their children in the rental heart of San Francisco during the Fifties and Sixties. They retreated to a waterfront tree farm over the summer. 

If outlying neighborhoods fall out of demand in the next few years and covenants permit, it might make sense to own an older suburban house sited on the good farmland that is so rare in Western Washington. Install a caretaker/intensive farmer to work the place, and use it as a week-end retreat from life in town. Ideally, a property would be located within easy walk of public transportation. Garden catalogues list electrically assisted carts with substantial carrying capacity. I’m not talking American dream here, just the down to earth practicality of a tiny country estate, which is what the suburbs were, originally.

I could see portable small scale canneries and abbatoirs appearing to preserve crops, on-site recycling of all bio-waste to enrich the soil, and friends and relations enjoying the benefits of a small share farm.


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