Friday, July 8, 2011

Million Dollar Slums

Creeping Suburbia, 2011

When we moved to our current neighborhood thirteen years ago we knew it wasn't exactly isolated. But it was still heavily wooded enough to feel away. Add to that the fact that the neighborhood is a dead end surrounded by water and that there are two intersections before you get to our house that have the same street name on all four sides of the street signs and you have a sense of how away and confusing it is back here.

When we moved here there was a moratorium on new construction in the area. Tighter environmental standards had resulted in the owners of undeveloped property not being able to build or subdivide until the city sewer reached us.

When that eventually happened, the wooded property across the creek from us was quickly subdivided and put up for sale. I’m not a developer. But what I know from observing what happened across the creek was that by shoehorning as many lots onto that property as they did hey created problems we’re going to have to deal with for decades.

The problem is that they subdivided the property into six small lots instead of four that match the density of the rest of the neighborhood. The lots sold quickly and a string of McMansions followed quickly behind. From the start the people who lived in those houses had problems with one another. Because their houses were so close to each other and their lots are configured in a jigsaw puzzle-like array of pie and flag shapes in order for everyone to have deep-water access, there were problems with noise and privacy. Everybody looked into everybody else's house. Water splashing out of one person’s swimming pool practically landed in the neighbor’s swimming pool.

The worst part—and I’m not really sure why this happened—is that these lots attracted a very contentious bunch of people. The first family’s son bullied the neighboring kids and eventually got kicked out of school for selling drugs on the school bus. The next family’s son tried to burn down their house and a few of the neighbors’. The third family was racist, anti-Semitic and generally rude and crude. Their kids stole stuff off my boat and that of my neighbor. Their open displays of hate and general disregard for anyone else made them the worst.

Between the drugs, alcohol, racism, anti-Semitism and general thuggish behavior, the police became regular visitors to their block and a flock of lawyers was kept busy untangling the litigation that arose between these three families.

Eventually, the “worst” family was compelled to leave the state for legal reasons. The kid next door to them who liked to burn things was arrested after threatening to harm his younger sister and is now prohibited from coming anywhere near here.

The other day I read in the paper that a bank would be foreclosing on the home of the family whose kid sold drugs. Apparently they’d stopped making payments on the million dollar loan they used to buy the lot and build the house. (A million dollars!!!) That house was sold on the courthouse steps yesterday and now belongs to someone else.

I feel about the houses on the other side of the creek as one might about a mean dog. The houses themselves aren’t bad. But the way their lots were designed and the way the houses relate to each other physically create a toxic situation. Ever the optimist, I have my fingers crossed in hope that the new people who eventually move in will be a nicer lot. It’s going to take a powerful bit of niceness to overcome the design flaws and bad vibes that have been created in that little cluster of million dollar slums.


  1. McMansion is a great description. The first time I came home and laid eyes on Church Point, which had been a dairy farm and feed corn fields as far back as I could remember, I was amazed at the lack of space between the homes. My first impression was that a fire in one home and a little bit of wind will produce a fine firestorm like the one that raced through the condos near Alexanders on the bay a few years back.

  2. I hate the way they mow down all the trees for miles and then plop down those Mcmansions on postage-sized-lots right smack up against one another. Unfortunately, it's the 'merican way.