MAIN STREET: House dreams are subject to change

<p>Rich Wandschneider</p>

The trouble with dream houses the dream homes on dream streets on big city real estate tours and the dream houses tucked among trees and canyons near big resort areas like Aspen and small hideaways like the Wallowas is that dreams change. And, despite the notion that dreams are private things that only the dreamer knows and loves, dreams are to a large extent communally generated. From the single-family house on the single lot in the suburb of lookalike starter homes of the postwar ’40s and ’50s, to the 50-year-later big box houses of some of the same dreamers overlooking the Snake River in the Lewiston, Idaho hills, our individual housing dreams have been part of something bigger.

I think this every time I hear that economic recovery is waiting on the housing market to rebound. My own notion is that the housing market will not rebound in its latest form, but is now fumbling along while the builders, architects, developers, futurists, and ordinary people living in the current economy figure out what the next housing dream should be. Or whether there should be ONE.

Though it is a long shot that it gains wide currency, the idea that the rental life without the drag of an owned house and the concurrent freedom to move as family arrangements, size, and whims change is out there (and was the norm decades ago). And what about those cute little mini-homes on wheels? Or living in apartments and spending the time and money normally given to housekeeping on travel and recreation? Or three condos in three places for the price of one box house on the hill? Or a “small is beautiful” super-insulated, environmentally correct, energy efficient just-the-right-size house on a previously vacant lot or replacing a tear-down thin-walled urban, suburban, or rural house that is leaking heat and chipboard pollutants into the atmosphere now? All of above live right here in Wallowa country.

One piece of the house dream that doesn’t get much play is family size (of course, family size doesn’t get much play when talking about the mysteries of school population declines either, but that is another matter). Friend Eric Sten, then a city commissioner in Portland with housing as part of his portfolio, told me that if Portlanders lived at the same density level as they had lived two or three generations ago, there would be no need to build any houses for the next generation or two. Could we form small co-ops that would have individual enclaves for privacy and communal kitchens and recreation areas for company and building efficiency? They’re doing it out there, believe me.

So what does this all mean? For life here in Wallowa country as well as for our larger economy? It means that many of the dream houses of the past the big houses meant for summer weekends and weeks and big family gatherings and months of vacancy with maybe a caretaker employed or living in the cabin next door; the fishing and hunting cabins; the lakefront chateaus are up for sale. Age and family configuration and yes, housing and lifestyle dreams subtly passed on to us by experts or generated in blogs in which we participated are changing what we dream.

The consolation, it seems to me, for those of us living in small towns that still have hardware and grocery stores, doctors, barbers, and gas stations, is a sense of self-sufficiency and completeness. We can take care of ourselves and each other with the jobs we do and the organizations churches, hospitals, school support groups, ski runs we communally form. We can look at those people still living in many-times-remodeled starter homes in suburbia and rows of town houses on the fire-threatened outskirts of Bend with hour-long gas-guzzling commutes and gloat just a little.

No matter which way the house dreaming goes next, it seems to me that the logical place where the dreamed housing single-family, co-op, apartment, condo goes is small town and urban core. Suburbia, the box castle in the Lewiston hills, and the third and fourth vacation home on the shores of Wallowa Lake, are all yesterday’s house dreams. And yesterday’s economies.

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