January 26, 2022
California lives in the middle of a housing crisis, particularly in the Bay Area. They attack the problem by refurbishing old houses, changing zoning to allow multiple-unit splits in existing homes, and up-zoning to construct larger buildings with lower rents. Yet, the problem persists.
Last month, UCLA planner M. Nolan Gray published an article in The Atlantic that refuted the reuse and maintain philosophy; he offers demo and rebuild as a viable solution.
He writes: "In housing circles, one hears a lot of self-righteous discussion about the need for more preservation. And many American homes doubtless deserve to stick around. But the truth is that we fetishize old homes. New construction is better on nearly every conceivable measure, whatever your aesthetic preferences. If we want to ensure universal access to decent housing, we should be building a lot more of it."
But that argument raised Mark Allen Hewitt's dander; he wrote an opposing piece in ArchDaily.
"It first pays to distinguish between the Eastern Seaboard and Southwest—where European colonists began building in the 16th century and left a considerable footprint on today's cities and towns—and the Far West and Midwest, where building stock is younger by a century or more. When discussing the 20th century, one should also be aware that pre–World War II construction, despite its asbestos and lead paint, was among the most durable and well-engineered the world has seen."
He argues that the costs of renovation and preservation outpace the price of building new but neglect the cost of materials over a building's lifecycle. "Building anew creates more waste than any other human endeavor, so reusing any existing construction will reduce this contribution to landfills."
But even Hewitt acknowledges the need for new housing. The US requires 700,000 new housing units every year to fill its ten-year housing gap. Hewitt argues for a more nuanced approach. "If a building is clearly old, deteriorated beyond repair, and of little aesthetic merit, remove it. But don't do the typical American thing and condemn it simply because it isn't bright and shiny and new."
With the continuing housing crisis hanging over the US, opinions vary on creating a solution, ranging from demolishing and rebuilding, to renovating and maintaining.