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The American dream of the single-family home has become an unsustainable nightmare

Updated: Aug 2, 2022

by L. Lo Sontag

Owning land is not freedom but rather a mirage. The solitary model of each of us individually owning a piece of nature with a little castle on top as the single-family home is not sustainable.

I often think about the Bundy stand-off and the Oath Keepers and their preoccupation with the land.

This land doesn’t belong to us. It was here before us and will be here after we all pass on. The idea of ownership is a delusion as dangerous as owning people.

Anyone who thinks they specifically deserve a piece of property all to themselves has been infected by a selfish and pernicious weltanschauung.

For the vast majority of people, the single-family home has been a disaster. Trying to obtain it is a soul-crushing exercise in which you are competing against major corporations. Even if you get a home mortgage, many have been duped by the terms of the mortgage and can’t afford it. The upkeep for each family to have their own castle is not reasonable. The taxes required for society have been shifted to the small property owners who find it burdensome. And then, there are the structural demands of an urban landscape. When you live in a single-family home in an urban region, most regions require car ownership because of the slow and often unreliable mass transit. Even if it exists, most mass transit is bus orientated and rides on the same city streets as cars.

Over 80% of Americans live in urban regions.

It is not lowering standards to have a densely populated area with walkable streets and working and accessible public transit. These areas are now considered premium living areas.

It is not lowering standards to have shared public spaces and third spaces. These are the hallmarks of great cities.

When we become seniors, many can’t even afford to live in the house in the suburbs of larger urban America and end up moving even further away to the exurbs. We end up moving to isolated hellholes where we die alone in our sleep in some newly created subdivision with no infrastructure.

What kind of dream is that?

We need a new vision. How about affordable co-ops in the center cities, next to working buses, trams, trains, parks, art, culture, and medical centers? “Hearts starve as well as bodies. Give us bread, but give us roses.” Why can’t that be what we’re demanding? Why are we demanding our own prefab castle where we have to bear the burden of upkeep alone, instead of a community in our center cities where the infrastructure we paid for is located?

This isn’t about the individual. Our institutions funded by corporations steer us towards this self-harm under the guise of individuality. If there is no society, as Margaret Thatcher once stated, it rebrands the anti-social choices the oligarchs make as mere consumer choices. In fact, it looks normal, like nature, red in tooth and claw. But as Kropotkin, E.O. Wilson, Lee Dugatkin, Franz de Waal, and David Sloan Wilson have demonstrated, co-operation is a hallmark of social creatures, and a Hobbesian war against the world is the sign of a failed society.

Corporations and wealthy people owning and holding large swaths of land and making everyone engage in a “civilized” version of hunger games to obtain housing is entirely unacceptable. That shouldn’t be allowed to happen, and we need to put financial mechanisms in place to disabuse the people behind the corporations that engage in this sadistic, predatory behavior.

Sharing is freedom. Collaboration is freedom. Equity is freedom.

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