Urban ‘McMansion’ trend falls with housing prices

Economic hard times may have prompted an unintended positive effect — curbing the temptation to tear down older houses to build monster-sized new homes in desirable city neighborhoods, according to a Christian Science Monitor story.

New York finance blogger Rolfe Winkler calls it a “delicious story” rife with symbolism about overheated real estate and leveraged dreams that sparked the biggest national real estate slump since the Great Depression.

But the plight of this White House also marks a major shift in the transformation of American neighborhoods — perhaps the end of the McMansion era. Indeed, it may allow thousands of communities from Pasadena to Pittsburgh to more accurately balance the living requirements of modern Americans with a widespread desire to maintain older neighborhoods.

Failing home prices coupled with a slumping real estate market appear to be driving the new trend away from building ostentatious abodes.

And not a moment too soon for several Colorado communities and urban neighborhoods that are endangered by the wrecking ball, claims the National Trust for Historic Preservation: Aspen, Boulder, Boulder County, Denver (Bonnie Brae, Cherry Creek, Cory-Merrill, Highlands, Hilltop, Park Hill, Platt Park, Sloan’s Lake, University Park, Washington Park), Durango, Lakewood and Littleton.

Nationwide more than 500 neighborhoods in 40 states are at risk.

In a 2006 speech, NTHP president Richard Moe said historic Denver was at special risk for vanishing under enormous gentrified homes derided as McMansions:

In Denver, at least a dozen historic neighborhoods are experiencing teardowns, with many 1920s and ’30s bungalows being replaced with new houses three times as big. More than 800 teardowns have occurred since 2003, and the number increased by an alarming 78 percent between 2004 and 2005.

However, the new downward trend noted by the Monitor appears to be taking root in Denver too. Julius Zsako, spokesman for Denver’s Community Planning and Development Dept., told the Colorado Independent that for the first 11 months of calendar year 2008, for which records are currently available, 185 residential demolition permits were requested — down 51 percent compared to 2007 when 376 permits were pulled by area residents. The down tick appeared to begin in 2006 when 313 home demolition permits were submitted; a far cry from the go-go days of low interest rates and no-questions-asked lending to any and all comers that characterized the early part of this decade.

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