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Right now the housing industry is still stuck in neutral. Money and spending are starting to flow, and projects and jobs are beginning to trickle in for those who’ve weathered the economic storm enough to be still in business, but the production of affordable homes for people to live in continues to be decades behind the US housing need estimates. I say decades because we were ten years behind in 2007 so we must be at least another ten years behind now. Add to this time-lag the fast growing population in history and you start to get the picture of how bad it is going to get. Drive down the street and see the growing homeless population in your community and you have more proof of the low affordable housing stock storm that’s coming if we don’t start looking for innovative solutions now.
Much of the talk is about the lack of affordable housing, but most people don’t understand that affordable no longer refers to housing low-income families but for housing middle-income families too. We’ve become a society where fewer and fewer people will own their homes and will spend their entire lives paying to live in the homes of those rich enough to be able to invest in housing as a financial commodity. Gone will be the iconic American Dream. Instead would be the dream of just having a roof over your head, while the destitute live on the street. So there are two problems to be solved: 1) to build more homes fast and 2) to build them cheap enough so the average person can afford to buy them. And unless we find a way to do this so the builder can make a profit, we will be left with a housing industry that’s a public commodity owned by the wealthy investor/developer; or taking the drastic step to make housing construction a state-owned enterprise like the post office. I prefer that we deal with the problem now while it’s still manageable and avoid taking either drastic steps of corporate ownership or state management.
Like every industry in the twenty-first century, building and construction are being hit by higher cost of goods, services, labor and the technology that’s replacing people with machines. Along with some ill thought out political maneuvering, it’s all becoming too costly to pay construction people a living wage, (The same people who would be buying the homes if they were affordable). The trouble is, the history of the construction industry in the U.S. is about lots of separate components being put together by different specialists, leading to higher costs but more specialist jobs. Just adding a small 100 square foot bathroom on a house requires the expertise of a dozen different industries from architect, excavators, framer, plumber, electrician, sheet rocker, tilers, and painters, etc… All these people need to be paid a fair living wage for their work, right alongside the rising cost of everything else, so, of course, building affordable homes becomes a different housing animal from the feasible mega mansion PUD and custom project. Then you have all the people behind the work proving materials, appliances, and fixtures that come with costs to transport and distribute them; and then all the business management people behind the manufacturing and on and on it goes. What we end up with is a major disconnect between an industry’s need to offer everyone a fair living wage and developing a quality product, at an affordable price for most people.
So what’s the solution? The first solution is to keep the affordable housing building and construction industries in the hands of the majority of workers and out of the hands of the investor or the state. Second to begin working with technology and innovation to come up with faster more efficient and affordable ways of building homes so everyone can afford to own one. Both of these mean an entirely new way of thinking about the construction of homes and the kinds of jobs that people in the industry are trained to do to create them.
Now this isn’t nothing new. Japan and Europe are way ahead of the US in finding alternative home building systems with the use of factory machines and computer technology, so it’s not like we don’t have a few years of their experience to work from in developing a system of building affordable construction. We just have to make the pivots with them and be smarter about it. And sure there’re lots of innovative ideas floating around like building 3D houses, (and this may or may not pan out someday); but right now we have more realistic options, such as factory built component housing that’s already in production for a small portion of the affordable housing buyer. For those out of the loop: the factory home building industry has come a long way since the days of the tin can like mobile home park homes. Today, there are many companies, both in the U.S. and abroad, that build some or all of their quality homes in the factory. These are not thin skinned cheaply put together structures, but stable, thoroughly detailed homes that are superior to the stick built onsite homes because all the factory production controls can create uniformity and a precision product. There are different qualities of factory home builders out there, as there are different quality car manufacturers. You have your Mercedes and BMW housing manufacturers, your Toyota, and Honda, and your Fords and Chevrolet. Not everyone can afford the BMW’s or wants the Fords, but most of us would be happy with the Toyota home. The best thing about these new quality homes is they look and feel like any other home, and even a professional can’t tell right away if they’ve been made in a factory. The only thing that’s different about them is they’re uniformly built faster, cheaper and with less waste. Building a factory home today means quality control goes up while time dealing with overlapping subcontractors and city planning departments shrink. Design it; check it; prepare the foundation at the site and a couple months later it’s installed and ready to move in. You may be wondering why, if it’s so straightforward, why aren’t we doing this now. It has to do with fear of change that would mean the loss of money for the money focused people and building industry people worried that they won’t have a job because their specialty will no longer be needed. Some of these worries may be true but then life always changes, and as the wise among us know: it’s always best to deal with change rather than hide from it. We just have to stop ignoring the problems and start working on finding solutions.
What would help with change is industry and government support for the little guy trying to make a living. The government needs to deal with the money controlled wealthy who want to keep feeding off the real estate industry at the expense of the needs for people to have homes, but with industry jobs, we can’t afford the loss at a time when we need more jobs. But with factory built homes, the jobs lost on the construction site can move to the factory floor and into technology development, transportation, and installation, or repair and remodeling homes. Instead of the old types of jobs building a few expensive homes in a stagnant construction industry, we can create even more jobs where people are making a living building millions of homes they can afford to buy themselves: This is about building and viable housing economy. It all starts by shifting focus from how to restart an outmoded broken system that’s only going to make a very few rich while we live in their rental units paying whatever price they say they want for sub-quality housing; and instead shift towards better jobs that improve the economy and quality of life for everyone. Factory home building is a way of building faster, creating jobs and keep prices down for the majority of people. And this happens through healthy industry competition. The more companies out there hiring people and creating these millions of needed factory homes, the lower the cost of buying them. It starts with making choices for change that creates a system that works for us all through the use of creative innovation and embracing technology that supports jobs and affordable housing through job creation and fair competition, not an industry that only makes money for investors and financial institutions. It’s about creating a new way to build the American Dream.
You’ll always be better at some things than others because people’s brains and bodies are wired uniquely like fingerprints. In childhood, you get to enjoy what you’re good at until the world begins to dictate to you who you should be. If you’re born into a family that favors some attributes over others, like physical agility, intelligence or creativity you’ll be more inclined to follow family expectations unless you’re terrible at them or hate them enough to rebel. Even if you decide to choose your own path in life you’ll always be looking outside yourself at society through the school system, your community, and the media for direction. If value and acceptance for your natural talents and preferred abilities are found in the world you’re one of the lucky ones. Others will end up following their family’s path and may succeed happily or not. Some will find an outside position to fulfill a community need and may find happiness or not. And a few will be so outstanding in their unique abilities they forge a new path for the rest of the world to follow. Unfortunately, tapping into the passion and abilities you were born with won’t make your life perfect or easy. It just makes it easier to ignore the difficult times while pursuing the awesome ones. The bottom line is: Finding survival success in the world is necessary but finding personal success and happiness is optional.
There are many ways to survive but what’s devastating to the spirit is compromising your innate abilities and life joy, once you’ve found them, to follow the family, society or anyone else’s idea of success at the expense of your personal passion. Once you compromise your talents, abilities, and happiness for anyone, you’re giving up your once only lifetime chance at being your fullest self because rare is the person who finds great personal success at something they don’t like doing. Even highly successful young people pushed into following their parent’s passion often end up bitter and resentful even if they sometimes enjoy what they were doing. It’s because they didn’t do it for themselves and they can’t stop wondering if something better and more fulfilling is inside them. No one finds happiness sacrificing themselves to fulfill someone else s’ dream. Anyone who expects you to compromise being your optimum self is not thinking about what’s best for you or anyone else, they’re only thinking about themselves. When someone disallows your living for yourself and ignores the benefit your happiness has to the community of others, they’re being selfish no matter how much they tell you they’re only thinking what’s best for you. In life, we need as many champions around us as we can because it’s never easy for the strongest of us to find our passion and succeed. So, if anyone tries to control you or hold you back, you need to find the strength to respect yourself and put yourself and the rest of the world first. This way, not meeting the needs of one, allows you to open yourself up to giving to the needs of the many.
Thinking about your personal needs first isn’t about neglecting your responsibilities to others, especially if there are those who are dependent on you. It’s about finding better ways of meeting everyone’s needs. It’s not about being selfish either. It’s about staying true to the passion inside you so you can succeed emotionally, psychologically, and economically and then share it with those you care about the most. Compared to doing something ridiculously lucrative but unpleasant, living an impassioned life that is at least financially comfortable, will make you happier and more enjoyable to be around. Making a lot of money doing something you don’t like and find unfulfilling can make you resentful and unpleasant to be around. Those who just want money from you and don’t care about you as a person will fall away from your life once the money stops flowing in and that’s a good thing because those who value you for being who you are are the ones worth investing yourself in. The best we can give to anyone is to share the bounty of our own happiness and success and give it back to those who support our happiness and who appreciate our true value. If you believe this, then the only thing you have to worry about is if society doesn’t value what you have to offer it. Ever have that feeling you’re living in the wrong place or time? That’s life telling you you’re ahead of the pack and a change maker not reincarnated. It’s your soul searching for meaning and personal value. It may take some time to find it, but it’s often found in your childhood memories of happiness and these moments are never entirely lost. So look there first and brainstorm how your past happiness can be shared with people today and you’re on track to your true self. Once you find your passion and your perfect life-flow-zone, the first step is over, so celebrate because you’ve just managed to start changing your life and the lives of others and all that’s needed from you is the next step, and the next step and the next.
Once you’re on track doing what you do best, using whatever your natural talents are, you’ll want to find a way to share with others. The money you make will be from this sharing and becomes a means to doing it. When you’re tapped into pleasure and happiness more than money and ego, you never feel like anything is missing. When the people you cherish the most benefit from your happiness and the emotional support you have for them, you never feel like your disappointing anyone if you’re not the richest person in the room. When you’re tapped into your true self, it’s not about chasing greatness through fame and fortune, it’s about just doing what you love for those you love and loving it. If fame and fortune happen to come with it, you can decide then if that’s a benefit or a hindrance because it’s common knowledge that many rich and famous people still feel unfulfilled and miserably unhappy. They don’t understand or don’t believe the power of great accomplishment is something that comes from inside them; nourishes them and becomes a mirror that inspires others, not something that comes from fame or money. Being true to the personal greatness and power that is uniquely yours and brings you the most passionate pleasure in life, will always trump the need to feed society’s shallow fickleness and your hungry damaged ego every time. Those who value impassioned cultural accomplishments over the ability to throw fame and money around will thank you for standing up, even if only in spirit as one of those who came before them and created a better world for them to follow in.
Number 3 in a series of articles about Hive Tech Living Environments and Urban Villages
By Angela Conte of the Axis4 Group, December 2, 2013
Designing a community, first and foremost, is about bringing people and families together so they can live comfortably with economic stability and to thrive. And, if you want a stronger community than you need to work at bringing people together and out of isolation through your design plan. Here are some often overlooked suggestions for how to connect people and places:
- Green space is not just about creating earth friendly environments, it’s about getting people to come outside and away from their electronics into open, safe, well maintained public areas that offer diversity of sizes, uses and configuration. There are people who will want some privacy in open spaces and some who love the crowd; some who want to enjoy the beauty of the outdoors and those who want to play.
- There shouldn’t be any neglected travel paths between public spaces. Everything needs to be well lighted day or night; clean and maintained; have visual clearance for safety; places to stop and things to see when walking. It’s also important to think about where you put your travel paths in relationship to businesses and their hours of operation, the local residents and the green space so everyone always feels connected and a part of the larger community.
- It’s nice to have local police who positively engage and blend with the community as ambassadors while being safety officers, such as pedestrian and bicycle patrols so that they and their community can stay connected with each other.
- Cities should encourage an easy system for all types of business sponsored community activities plus non-profit citizen organizing and free speech participation. Know and treat all your business owners, citizens and visitors with the same respect; and don’t bring in the heavy guns and artillery over a few people holding up signs because other cities are doing it. These other cities are taking political sides and not showing respect for everyone’s rights and/or trying to show strong leadership but instead are showing that they are in over their heads and a community that’s out of control. If you treat all of one group of people like trouble makers, whether they intended to be or not, you’re encouraging people to behave badly. If you have a vocal community, choose a nice specific areas for protesting so that those who want to take part have a designated place to go and those who want to avoid them can.
- New urban-ism is about every neighborhood in town having:
1) People who work there and bring in new and exciting things from the outside.
2) People who live there who feel responsible for the care of their home community.
3) Easy accessibility to food and basic everyday dry goods at a fair price.
4) Small clinic based medical services with other health care options.
5) Lots of entertainment and cultural activities.
6) Public transportation within walking distance to everyone and everything.
It’s not about isolating each of these into separate zones throughout the city. Besides being infrastructure inefficient, this type of zoning keep people and places separated into different economic and social classes, making some accessible only to those who can afford to get to them. It is about making a complete and balanced community in every neighborhood. And it’s about building a community of people through a balanced and cohesive infrastructure.
6. When you allow the build of housing, there should be a strong level of quality structural development for all. Whether it’s a single family homes or a multifamily complex, the quality standards should be the same for everyone, not cheap and shoddy for the poor and a higher quality for the rich. The level of financial diversity can come from how and what the resident puts into the building. If a contractor can’t afford to build at a minimum standard of structural integrity for every person in your community, than wait until someone comes along who can. A builder’s quality is not in how wealthy they are or how much money they make, it’s in the standards of their work. Anyone can get rich building bad quality buildings that they latter over price, but the best of the best can build structurally superior projects for everyone every time and still get a fair price point, if well planned out. So be very picky about who builds in your community.
The more balanced and equal your community’s economic, social and structural foundation that allows for diversity and freedom to be unique, the stronger a community you’re building.
Have you heard about the recent research that found that a person’s quality of life is improved up to a $75,000 income and after that it goes flat or begins to descend? I’ve heard this three times on different NPR shows, (National Public Radio in the US), but that’s all they say about it. This only creates questions for me, such as: Where do they live? What GNP period did they use? Are their earners credit users? Do they own or rent their home? Is their income secure? How many people are they supporting in their household? What is included in their definition of a quality lifestyle? A statement like this just needs so much more clarification before it can be taken at face value and yet those who are forwarding the message seem to want just that: that we take this number at face value. Assuming that I do accept the premise of their conjecture that quality of life, when it comes to money, is limited and you don’t need to be a billionaire to be happy: I get that. It’s something that I have always felt an intuitive vibe with, and why money and income has never been important to me unless the lack of it stopped me from doing what I wanted to do in life, and what I want to do rarely requires me to make huge amounts of money, so most of the time my quality of life is pretty good. I spend my days doing what I love most and I rarely have to put up with unpleasant people. I eat well and get lots of exercise. I live in a nice place and most of my basic needs are taken care of. What I don’t have and don’t miss are lots of unnecessary: electronics, TV, latest blockbuster movies, fancy new cars and computers every ten years, nor have I gone on that trip around the world yet. Okay that last one is still on my wanna do list. What I do have in my life is far better than what I don’t and that’s what counts when it comes to quality of life for me.
What has led me to my better quality of life has more to do with taking the time to carefully think about what is really important to me and following through on what I find. Thinking carefully and behaving right doesn’t require money: a person just has to do it. If you think about it: 20% of that $75,000 a year in America is spend on finding the time to just get away from all the mind noise and employment work that takes you away from thinking about and enjoying your better life. How? Like this: The generic US citizen grows up; takes a job that is similar to their parents or is what their parents want them to do; then accepts the job offer that is prevalent for their generation and which is offered when they go job hunting; then works hard without asking too many question, doing what their bosses tell them to do; spends their life building the type of lifestyle that is not too much different from their friends and neighbors, (more on this later); then, if they are lucky, will retire with enough income to not have to work into their old age, allowing them to sit around doing nothing. At no point in there is anyone required to stop and really think about what they want from their one and only life because they believe its easier to follow the path set for them and be done with it. Besides if you want to be different, you can just watch others take risks and be different on TV and the more different and outlandish the better. Watching different people’s lives fall apart just proves that being different and not following your socially acceptable preformed path will only lead towards devastation and unhappiness.
When I think about what matters more, I think about how comfortable people lived before the industrial revolution. Sure they had to make and wash their own clothes by hand which made them sleep like logs at the end of the day; grow and prepare their food from scratch so they didn’t have room for lots of junk food; walk long distances through lush landscaping, putting them in the middle of nature and changing seasons all the time; and their idea of holiday travel meant visiting their neighbors in town or going to a church gathering; and the rest of the time they had to keep their hands moving and their minds occupied with thinking because their consciousness wasn’t filled up with a constant media blitz in a totally commercialized world wanting them to buy, buy, buy stuff. Let’s face it, in the world of today, every economist, politician and business person has one role and that is to keep the growing population of human beings avoiding starvation, financial collapse and civilization’s stagnation by keeping people always: working, shopping, fantasizing and never stopping long enough to think about how their quality of life could really be improved by doing less and not more: Through quality over quantity.
What if that generic Westerner decided to stop spending their money on anything that didn’t contribute to their true quality of life? How much money would they then need to live on? How much time would they need to spend working at a job for that amount of money? How much time would they have doing what they truly wanted to be doing, if they didn’t work all the time trying to keep up with the Jones or watching the Jones on TV, so they knew how to keep up with them? And finally how would this impact the quality of life for the rest of the world?
Let’s look at a typical modern day suburban American family who has two working parents and 2.5 kids. Dad is full time and mom part-time: Dad works for corporate Honcho making $55,000 a year; gets medical and dental and two weeks off a year after 10 years of employment; mom is part-time so she doesn’t have any benefits but she has the time to drive the kids around and do the shopping, so they don’t have to pay someone else to do these things but they probably spend that much on gas anyways. They rent their home, drive two fancy looking cars with not very good track records on value that were bought from an over priced used car lot that gave them 19% financing that they are still paying the interest on after four years, but they look good driving around in them when they are not in the auto shop. Dad has about a dozen credit cards, and can get more any time he wants so when mom really wants something, which is all the time, she buys it without thought, without consideration and their home is filled with so much stuff bought spontaneously that it looks like an episode of Hoarders. When dad isn’t working he’s buying manly stuff like big screen TVs for every room, wall size fish tanks, DVD players for the cars, expensive games and toys that he gets tired of after a couple days just like a child. They have no life insurance, are not saving for retirement, are way too far into debt to ever buy a home; but mom, dad and the kids can buy whatever they want spontaneously when they are in a store and feel like they are keeping up with the Jones. In reality they owe three times their income and they have nothing to show for it but a beat up rental and two cars full of garbage. After work hours laboring at jobs they hate they drink booze and give big lavish adult filled birthday parties for their small children. Oh and where are the children when not at school or sick at the doctors from all the crud they eat? Running around the house unsupervised, unabashedly breaking stuff until after dinner when it’s then about bad adult TV. When they get old enough, they can run around someone else house or around town where mom and dad don’t have to think about them. This may not look like your family picture but it’s probably close to many of the American families today.
Now, what if the same family stopped and didn’t spend money except for things that are 1) completely necessary; 2) that contributed to making their life truly run more efficiently so that they had more time to do things that really mattered to them; and 3) saving for a proverbial rainy day that could include a job change, a long term illness or death of an income earner, or educations that improved the quality of life for other family members? The necessary stuff is pretty much the same for everyone: food, hygiene, clothing, shelter, medical, communications and transportation. The second set of investments that contribute to a more efficient life are a little more individual and may include things such as: the home computer, internet and other work implements not covered by the employer, house keepers if it frees up time to do other things, a garden to grow some fresh food while getting free exercise and fresh air, or owning your home so you can put in a granny unit out back and have free live in childcare. These life easing conveniences in the second group are different for each of us and our families but if more of us get focused on what matters most for a quality life, I bet there will be more things that we all appreciate than we don’t; for example: more time with family and friends, time to travel, eat healthy quality fresh foods, play and be active; have time to stop and think and enjoy the good lives that we are free to create for ourselves. The material things that are meant to impress others are not on the list for those who are thinking straight because why spend your life trying to impress others, if it means your quality of life suffers? Some people with really low self esteem may still prefer to live to impress rather than live for oneself but these people don’t have to be you if you’re conscious about who you are and what you really want in life that makes you happier.
Its not that hard finding true happiness in life, all you have to do is avoid the trap of going after the material stuff that “might” impress someone else; take the time to stop and think about what truly brings you happiness and then plan your life around these meaningful things and time well spent. Once you discover what makes you happy and you spend your time doing it for yourself, all the other wasted miserable time falls away and you no longer have the reasons to keep that meaningless job for meaningless money to pay for meaningless junk. Find meaning in your life and I guarantee you will find happiness.