From Harper's Magazine, February 2010, excerpt from Harper's Index:
Number of architects nominated to design the 2010 "New American Home" for an annual home-builder's convention: 3
Portion of the home completed by November, when the builder ran out of money: ¾
This speaks volumes about where we are right now.
First, we have grandiose ideas about how to "celebrate" everything. This is a result of the marketing culture that we have become accustomed to which is ingrained in the promotion of everything from Cheetos to choosing not to have an abortion and producing a Heisman trophy winner instead. Anything marketed properly can sound great. But is it real? And does it matter? Because once the marketing has done its job we are already on to the next thing.
But what happens is that the bigger picture is completely overlooked. Without context we aimlessly move from marketing scheme to marketing scheme. The only satisfaction comes in finding something to move along to. No engagement for any length of time.
Just ask a politician what should be done to solve any of the multitudes of problems we are currently facing. You get marketing platitudes and the sense that he has some numbers cruncher stashed in the basement doing the real work of finding the answer while the politician is out delivering the message, but somehow they never let that basement dweller out. And nothing actually gets done. But that's OK because we just move on to the next thing, there are so many. Sure, we will circle back around to that topic eventually but the same thing happens again. At some point time will run out. What is amazing is how long it is taking.
Back to the Index data: It is 2010 and we have been in a residential real estate meltdown for almost two years now. So let's have a home-builder's convention!
Yeah, why not. But true to form for our current economy, the money is gone before the job is done. No surprise there, except perhaps that financing was found for even ¾ of it. But why would you start building if you did not have it all lined up before hand? Perhaps they counted on getting a bailout. Or maybe they were betting costs would fall to make up the difference. But who is going to reduce their price when the risk of the job failing before completion because it is underfunded from the outset is so obvious?
Who is responsible for this? I doubt we will ever know. Chances are the guy in charge is long gone; off the hook by his very absence or his bankruptcy or his incarceration. When you are using other people's money, there is little reason to exercise any personal responsibility. For every Bernie Madoff there are thousands of small time crooks who never get caught. And even when they do so what, the money is gone. No resources left to even tear it down. That is the case just down the street from my house where a three story shell of an oddly designed "luxury condo" complex sits rotting upon land that once held some modest but pleasant low slung red brick apartment complexes surrounded by beautiful green lawns.
As a final observation maybe this is the true representation of the New American Home: incomplete and unfunded. Three quarters of a house is really about all we have built ourselves over the last quarter century. I guess when the rain starts coming through the open quarter of the house and hits us in the face we might actually wake up and take matters into our own hands and seal it up. In the meanwhile, we all seem to be waiting for a guy with a big hammer to show up and lead the way. Is that person you?
Thanks to the Flicker photo, identity unknown.