Thursday, July 17, 2008

High Density Housing

I'm mostly in favor of high density housing. It makes possible such things as walkable neighborhoods and auto-less lifestyles. There are a few downsides.

1. Neighborhoods are only as good as the neighbors. If closely-packed inflexible people have wildly different social habits and expectations, there will be friction. Differences are noticed most along economic and ethnic boundaries, whether they exist there more or not.

2. Noise. You get a lot of people in one place, it won't ever be really quiet. Some people like that, but I don't know anyone (yet) who likes it all of the time.

3. Smoke. Thanks to building codes and such, high density means hard-wired smoke and fire alarms that are loud enough to rock most of the complex. And then, there are the people who like to smoke outside of their own homes (so as to keep the stink to a minimum) and end up sharing with anyone who has an open window.

I'm sure I'm forgetting some. Do you have any to add? Are there some really great things you'd like to mention about high density housing? Please feel free to add all and sundry to the comments below.

So, what inspired this entry?

1. Our current neighborhood seems to be fairly well mixed, income-wise. Every now and then, an outlier moves in and there's trouble. Toward the "working class" end, we get dramatically more shouting and loud music. Toward the "elite" end, we get sticks-in-the mud who hide behind the HOA to visit a thousand little cuts on their less worthy neighbors. We haven't been targeted by the busybody set (yet) but they annoy me on principle. Why call the HOA when your problem is right outside your kitchen window and you can discuss your differences from there? Tattletales. Me, I prefer the noise.

2. I had no idea that all of the little exhaust fans and air conditioners and garage door openers and moving cars and early morning newspaper deliveries could combine to be greater than the sum of their parts. There is a nonstop buzzing in my ears from this place that I'm not going to miss much when we move in a few months.

3. When we first moved in, we had neighbors across from our front window who were smokers and always sat out on their front step to talk in loud voices until late into the night while they puffed away. Given the airflow here, their smoke made a beeline for the front windows of all of their neighbors and we were all forced to keep our windows closed. It would be silly to make rules about NOT smoking on their own doorsteps (and I think there'd be a revolt), so we mostly just put up with it and stupidly didn't ever say anything about it to them.

Tonight, I've closed the kitchen windows because the pot smoke from the neighbor's garage was overpowering. Rather than being silent and stupid, this time around I'll politely mention in passing that the smoke really travels. And just for kicks I'll point out whose windows should not be open when they light up if they don't want harassing letters from the HOA...


Peter said...

Yeah, I hear you. Your development does sort of suck. There doesn't appear to be much to facilitate socialization between residents. If your only contact with neighbors is to put up with their odors, rubbish, or noise, there is little hope of a real neighborhood. No wonder you don't like them!

On the bright side, there do appear to be a reasonable number of decent things to walk to in your area. Do you find it possible to socialize with any of your neighbors when walking out and about?

From what I can remember, your area doesn't strike me as being very dense. Your individual development seems sort of like a sterile mid-density development in the middle of a low density area.

Okay, my curiosity got the better of me. I looked up San Jose's population density map for your area. It sort of looks like to me that there isn't much density in your neighborhood, even though your individual development is slightly higher density than the average "low" or "not populated" densities surrounding your neighborhood. I wonder if there isn't a "critical mass" problem here.

Finally, some of my negative impression of your area comes from the bland surroundings. Your development seems to be entirely hewn from the same stuff. I wonder if that impacts negatively on outdoor activity and consequently the number of interactions with your neighbors?

I'm going to be really interested to see how your next apartment hunt goes. You've got a good eye for amenities in the built environment, and I'm sure there are some gems buried somewhere there in SJ.

I suppose one place to start looking would be for older neighborhoods. Keep an eye out for front porches and lack of garage doors. The more mixed commercial / residential development should make for a more interesting area. Boundaries where the grid pattern shifts can sometimes have cool stuff.

Keep us posted!

Peter said...

I forgot to note. Those density figures come from the 2000 census. Maybe things are better now?