The Dream Houses



Keep out!  No riffraff or flowering shrubs allowed!    

If you are suffering at present from a shrinking retirement account, rising unemployment, tighter credit, and plummeting property values, there might be a silver lining here.  Maybe the worst of suburban development is coming to an end. 

Shrinking prosperity is already putting the brakes on the proliferation of McMansions everywhere.  And what no cash doesn’t do, the end of what writer James Howard Kunstler calls the "cheap oil fiesta" might.  Most of us now know in our bones that oil prices are only plummeting temporarily, that we are coming up against the finite limits of our fossil fuel supply sooner rather than later.  And our national tendency to build wherever we please with as little connection as possible to walkable civilization or nature now mainly seems embarrassing.

Here, as a prime example of what’s gotta end, are photos from the most "upscale" new development outside of Red Bluff, California, an inexplicable several miles from Red Bluff itself.   


Why have a garden when there’s concrete?


Or brick and concrete?


Or stone and concrete?

You’d never guess, of course, that these houses are not set in some asphalt desert, but on the gorgeous, icy, clean Sacramento River in an amazingly unspoiled and underpopulated landscape of beautiful golden grasses and towering oaks, with snow-covered volcanic mountains in the distance.


Here’s a vacant lot in the same development.

And here is a photo by Diane Cardwell, a much better photographer than me, of a spot nearby to give you an idea of the stark majesty of this part of the world.


Why build and landscape appropriately, however, when you can completely dominate and obliterate a beautiful piece of land with your concrete and your cash?  And why participate in the life of a scruffy but charming town like Red Bluff, when you can build your house behind gates miles outside it?

Hard times are not pretty.  But I’m not entirely unhappy about them, if they mean fewer "dream" houses so utterly disconnected from both humanity and God’s green earth.


  1. My cozy little cabin would probably fit into the entry foyer of one of those monster houses.

    Reading Kunstler is never reassuring. He was sure right about the still unfolding financial crisis though.

  2. All the top photo needs is some concertina wire along the top of the fence and some ominous looking gun turrets and guard towers to complete the look. Maybe they got their landscaping ideas from the CA Dept. of Corrections?

  3. Wow, good ol’ Red Bluff. Red Bluff used to be the quiet country cousin to Redding, which is entirely too big for it’s britches now.

    The McMansions creep and spread like a virus… Holy moly, who could pay the upside-down mortgage plus the heating and cooling bill on one of those sensible places? I agree that this big hiccup in the economy will slow down the egregious hyper-consumerism for a while.

    Have they been packing the pretty foothills around the area with McMansions, too, with all the grace of an asteroid stuck into the hillside? Then, they think “Oh, fire danger!” and blast out a huge clear-cut moonscape around the McMansion high on the hill – really ugly.

    Anyway – I hear ya, and it’s a great post to get people thinking!!!

  4. Near Beaverton and Portland, Oregon, I’ve seen benefits to people not being able to build what you called McMansions.

    During the 90s, many of my customers left older homes to go to new ones that they could barely afford. They skimped on the landscape installation, and the new landscaping required little pruning which meant a loss of pruning business.

    When cutomers stay in houses longer, it’s better for us.

    Also, I watched Beaverton grow from about 7,000 in the 60s, to near 80,000 currently. And I’ve got no gripes about development coming to a halt. That always leaves a nice niche in the remodeling trade to turn to.



  5. Ugly ill planned architecture (contractor schlock) and lack of well planned sustainable landscape architecture will continue to blight the United States because people want these type of homes and know no better or just do not care about their far reaching effects.
    Fortunately the credit crunch will curb this blight and perhaps during this ‘down time’, some back to basics sensible environmental sensitivity training & education can sprout up in its place.

    Looks like Red Bluff could use a planning department recall or at the very least an update to their planning and building dept. codes and oversights.

  6. Who would even want to live there? It looks like a mental institution. What’s with the economy car out front? That couldn’t be theirs. Why would anyone commute home to this and why would some old farts decide to retire and take care of all the dust collecting in the unused rooms?

  7. Someone recently put one of these in my neighbourhood, just plopped it down among the Sears bungalows and 1930 colonials and a couple of “painted ladies”. It is enormous, and in front it is completely paved–there is a double driveway, a complex of steps and paths, and two planting pockets which now contain nandinas and nothing else. It faces west, so I suppose it’s just as well they haven’t left any more planting space because plants would be cooked by the afternoon summer sunreflecting off all that cement.

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