Alright, this week I had the painful experience of reading an article on The Atlantic that can only be found in America as the fruits of common core math begin sprouting in the minds of today’s journalists and city planners.
On the journalistic scale of 1-10 this one came in at a solid -126. That may seem like an arbitrary number but I can assure you the number has merit unlike this story.
The article is called Stop Fetishizing Old Homes by M. Nolan Gray apparently attempting to capitalize on the M. Night Shyamalan first initial only name game that made his movies so riveting. Who is M. Nolan Gray? According to his bio, he is a professional city planner and a housing researcher at UCLA. He is also the author of the upcoming book certain to be a staple on every bookshelf called Arbitrary Lines: How Zoning Broke the American City and How to Fix It. I’ve pre-ordered my copy and you can too at Bookshop.org.
The thesis of the article is that America has an unhealthy obsession with old houses which, in the author’s eloquent words, “just kind of sucks”. A clearly definable statement that is not subjective at all. He posits that new construction is “better on nearly every conceivable measure” and “one hears a lot of self-righteous discussion about the need for more preservation.” On a more serious note, I’m not sure how he discovered the rotating top secret “righteousness club” meetings I and other preservation influencers have, but I’m determined to get to the bottom of the leak. -21 points for snooping
He continues “Old housing is simply less safe” due to lead paint and lead pipes. He also sites improper, aging wiring, and these buildings lack of building materials needed to stop a blaze as a fire hazard. You know unlike the newer, better stuff like vinyl siding and spray foam which are so flammable it takes little more than my ex-girlfriend walking by to be ignited by that old flame. -35 points for fire misinformation
What struck me most was not the audacity and smugness to write an article about how anyone who disagrees with him is clearly out of their mind. Clearly us old-housers suffer from lead poisoning which makes us Cuckoo-for-COCOA-PUFFS. But what really chapped my hide was the utter disregard for facts and lack of real world experience.
One of the immeasurable improvements present in new construction, the honorable Mr. Gray sites, is how “noise is appropriately now recognized as one of the biggest quality of life issues in cities” and how new buildings get this right while old buildings almost always have no noise dampening features.
Not only is this verifiably untrue, which anyone who has lived in a home with 1” thick plaster walls that block not only my voice but stop the wi-fi signal from 5 feet away, but the opposite is more typically the case.
He lays lavish praise on his former home, a mid-2000s apartment in DC, that had such excellent sound-blocking due to fiberglass insulation, clearly the gold standard of modern sound-blocking to Mr. Gray. Don’t misunderstand me, I’m truly happy for him that he found the one apartment building in America where sound-blocking was done effectively unlike every other apartment the rest of us have lived in where your 23-yr-old neighbor feels obligated to keep you awake until 1 AM with another rendition of Dirty Pop. True story and God Bless N’Sync. -42 points for keeping me awake
Seriously has this man lived in any of the modern housing the rest of us have? Wood trim that falls apart faster than a Hollywood marriage, double pane windows that fog faster than my shower door, and mold growth that, well…I’ll just say that most of today’s housing stock reminds me of a 4-week old loaf of bread on a Floridian kitchen counter.
But the pièce de résistance of the whole article is when he prescribes the final solution for the Old House Fetishizers of America (a new club I just started thank to his suggestion). The solution? The Japanese model, where homes are torn down after only 30 years and thrown in the landfill (aka Tokyo Bay) and new homes are built to replace them. This, he believes, results in “a new house with all the modern amenities and design innovation that entails.”
As someone who lived in Japan, I can assure you that Japanese home construction is not something that America will cherish. Japanese houses are made with some of the cheapest prefabbed materials on earth and provide the lowest quality of life I have experienced. Most middle class Japanese houses were built with materials that wouldn’t make the quality cut at IKEA. -28 points for making me reference IKEA.
Add those all up and you get -126 on our journalistic rating.
It’s clear that facts are fickle things that come only sparingly across the desk of Mr. Gray. Much like a unicorn bathing by the moonlight.
As someone who shows such concern for climate issues throughout this article I would think that proposing the solution of razing and dumping what would amount to trillions of metric tons of waste into our landfills and pulling the equal amount of materials out of the earth each year to replace those old houses would cause the error function on his mental calculator to display, but apparently that function has been disabled on the Ocasio-Cortesean model he uses.
This article proves once again that people who have never lived in an old house should not be trusted to make decisions about what we as a country should do with our old houses. So, as someone who has been inside more old houses than Hugh Hefner has Playboy bunnies, let me say that there is only one “final solution” for old houses.
If you want an old house you should buy an old house. If you want a new house you should buy a new house. Neither group should have any say in a free country like this is about how other people choose to live their lives and in what kind of home they choose to live those lives. And if you can’t do math, then stop promoting a policy where 2+2=zebra.
And that’s today’s SoapBox.
Founder & Editor-in-Chief
I love old houses, working with my hands, and teaching others the excitment of doing it yourself! Everything is teachable if you only give it the chance.