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Welcome to the public access blog for Project Outrage. This is a place for everyone to share their stories, frustrations, and criticisms about the too fast world of production housing. Topic areas are wide open and can include things like commuting, bad design features in your home, wasted space or materials, careless construction, problems with development companies or home builders, misleading advertising, unscrupulous real estate professionals, mini malls, and parking lots.

The important thing is to tell us the story from your perspective, however modest it may seem. People need to see that they are not alone in feeling upset, frustrated, angry or sad with their situation.

I will be monitoring the blog on a regular basis to make my own comments and answer any questions you might have.

Thanks for making a contribution.

John Brown
Calgary, Canada
I came across your group, "Project Outrage," and I have a few questions for you. First however, here's a little information about me. I am a 24 year old journey man plumber and have been involved in the construction industry in Vancouver, BC for the past 5 years.

I would like to know how slow construction is in any way economical. I have seen the concerns raised over the environment, and while I understand there are environmentally friendly products available for purchase, have you priced-out the costs of these materials? They cost an average of about 1.5 times the cost of regular building materials. Furthermore, it would take a greatly increased length of time to construct such housing. While I agree that there should be more care and attention taken within the construction industry, and I would love to be able to take an extra week here or there to proof all my work to make sure everything is done to the highest standards, who is going to pay for that when general contractors are being billed approximately $70/hr for workers? I highly doubt the regular first-time home buyer would agree to pay that! Across all of the trades, an extra week to make sure everything is good, and environmental building materials would make home prices skyrocket. So I have a question for you: do you not want low income people to be able to own a house? Is it only okay for people who make well over 6 figures a year to own a home? I, for one, would like to be able to own a house someday. It already seems a fool’s errand to wish for something like that, when prices of homes in the Greater Vancouver area have risen to well over a million a piece.

I suppose I want to ask you who you feel should take the hit. Is it the homeowner’s responsibility to pay an extra six figures to make sure the house is built to your standards? Is it the general contractor’s job? Where does it start and stop?

I do not like the looks of suburbia either; I am against monotony in design. However, I have worked with architects and know that they are not cheap to hire. Why should a home buyer feel obligated to add the further cost of hiring an architect to design their new home when they are already facing a lifetime of debt in the current situation without these additional costs?

Matt
Vancouver
Matt, I just wanted to comment on a few of your concerns, which I agree are valid. I think a better way of thinking about it is what is the cost of not taking the extra time (and money) to put into a product that will last longer, be healthier and environmentally friendly? What are the long term effects of doing something that will cost more in the long run to either fix when things start deteriorating due to the need to build it as quickly as possible? I think the problem is that we are a society of "I need it right now!" I think if more homeowners were aware of long term effects, and were shown a figure of how much they would save by taking extra steps now, it would greatly effect their decision of what they are buying. Do we really need to live in a huge house out in the suburbs? Where we spend a ridiculous amount of gas and time driving to work and thus spending less time with our families? Most people think and believe that this is the best lifestyle to have, but I think there are other options out there that most of us have never even thought of. I don't think that slow home is about being "slow" or about wanting to use the most expensive materials to build an oversized house. Unfortunately, most of us desire the large house away from the bustle of the city. With "going green" as a mentality that is slowly making its way into more peoples lives, I think that a gradual move to more economical and environmental housing will start to happen, which is what "slow home" is advocating. You are right when you say that people don't want to hire an architect because they cost more. People are scared of architects because they think they want to make a huge profit by placing a landmark on the earth that perhaps is less about the homeowner and more about the architect. Not all architects are interested in huge profits, but the down side is that there are a lot who are. Another important point about slow home is that it supports a concern for the homeowner, who should be an integral part of the design of their own home. I think being a part of that is a very rewarding experience, which to some people, might be worth an extra cost. This also gives a sense of ownership that you don't get with cookie cutter housing.

Michelle
Regina, Canada
Tonight's outrage is project outrage and it's romantic summer fever.
Virtual outrage will render nothing but anesthetic self-validation.
Change is happening while you are still wondering. Even followers take action.
Ask yourselves what is really stopping you.
Sweet dreams outrageous adolescents.
Gotta go back to work.

alberto
montreal, canada
Alberto,
I agree that "all talk no action" is useless but that is not what is going on here. The slow home movement is about raising awareness of all the hard work that is being done in many different arenas to improve the quality of our domestic worlds. For twenty years I have witnessed talented hard working architects, craftsmen and product designers work away doing good, important things that nobody outside of their city knows anything about. The vast majority of people know nothing of this work or how to engage in it, and think that production homes are the only option we all have. This website is about bringing all this hard work and success to this broader audience so that more good work can be done in more places to effect even more change.

I know it is difficult not to be cynical in an age where everything seems to matter but nothing seems to get done. At the same time cynicism is too easy a form of criticism that leads to only another type of inaction. I do appreciate, however, the poetic sense with which it has been expressed.

John Brown
Calgary, Canada
Matt,
Thank you for your comments. They are very important. I also think that Michelle has addressed the issues you bring up quite well. Perhaps I can augment her comments with a slightly different tack.

I don’t think that anyone really needs to take a so called “hit” in economic terms except for the developers and large home building companies that make excessive profits by building the cheapest possible house/community they can get away with and then selling them for the highest possible price they can get. There are lots of examples from other parts of the world, and some in North America as well, where well designed and built houses are available to the majority of citizens (check out some of the modest projects we have featured in Folio that I described to Sean in an earlier post) . The problem is that we are suffering with the legacy of a long established industry that is continuing to do business the way it has always done it and is very reluctant to change.

The situation is quite similar to the changes in automobile safety in the 70’s. At that time cars didn’t need to have seat belts and they weren’t safety tested. The automobile industry lobbied against the introduction of mandated safety (i.e. higher quality design, features and construction) on the basis that the cost of cars would skyrocket and people would be out of work. The changes were implemented and the industry improved their products without any major price shift. The same thing happened a decade later with the fuel efficiency debate. The slow home movement is about raising public awareness about the issue so that we can start the same kind of pressure on the industry.

It is really great that you, as an individual working in the industry, have joined Project Outrage. From my 20 years in construction I know that most tradespeople want to do a good job and they are frustrated by the constant pressure from the broader industry to cut corners and costs. It undermines the quality of what they are doing and can impact job satisfaction. We need to raise the bar about what homebuyers consider acceptable. That will allow you, and everyone else involved, to do their jobs to the best of their abilities – making beautiful homes that last, work well, and tread lightly on the earth.

John Brown
Calgary, Canada
Matt,
I also want to make one final clarification about architects. You are correct with the observation that (at the moment in North America at least) architects usually build expensive houses. This is because (at the moment in North America at least) rich people are usually the only ones that can hire them. Not because they themselves are expensive (most residential architects have among the most modest of rates in the consulting world) or that they can only design expensive things (most architects I know are really good at designing modest projects and enjoy doing them). Rather, the system is structured against it. The big home companies don’t want private architects – too challenging to the status quo. This means working in a single build custom home situation with a private, usually small, general contractor. This is, by nature, a more expensive proposition. The other big issue is that North America does not have a tradition of hiring architects for houses. We have been told by the marketing wing of the new home companies for the past 60 years that they are expensive and autocratic and that your money would be better spent on an upgraded hardwood floor (which they can make more money on, like super sized fries).

The slow home movement is also about initiating a change in this mindset. My research has shown that most people in a custom build situation save the cost of their architectural fees because 1. good design can usually provide a better house in a smaller, simpler footprint and 2. good design reduces costly mid construction change orders.

I know there are exceptions. Architecture as a profession certainly attracts its share of egos. But then again so does wrestling and French restaurants. We have to work around these less fortunate examples and find promote all of the good ones to get more involved.

John Brown
Calgary, Canada
when I was a student our teacher take our group to visit the first social housing project in guadalajara mexico, what was my surprise that around this place some years ago was a lake and a river and many, many trees and in this visit the same area was full of ugly identical housing buildings.if the government could continued the original plan with parks and recreation areas people would live much better.

armando garcia orso
tijuana mexico
I am a proud supporter and promoter of the slow movement in all its forms.

As I understand it, the principle of a "slow" mentality does not carry with it any notion of outrage...the point is to simplify and improve our lives in positive promotion, not negative bashing. Not John Browns intent I’m sure, but odd none the less.

That said,

Whilst I am a proponent of slow, I am also a profitable builder and developer in southern Alberta. Matt’s comments above point to a polarizing view of the mandate of slow. The point is not to accomplish the dream in one pass, but to contribute to the process.

I am currently building a 45 home community, and yes, they are a small field of 'vinyl outhouses.'

Yet here in small town High River, we are helping open a new world of development. This is the first RPD zoned district in the town, allowing higher density, something designed specifically to reduce suburban sprawl. Despite many perceived similarities with other communities nearby, we are building to specifications comparable Alberta's BuiltGreen, or the R-2000 mandate.

Sounds great right? Add to that an aggressive recycling program, EnergyStar Appliances and collaborative communication with our trades on improvement, and it sounds too good to be true.

IT MUST BE

We're making money.

Don't slight us; this was the plan from the beginning.


This is all accomplished by compromise. You believe in the principle first, and then you do whatever you can to make it work.

So, yes, we use vinyl siding; yes, only front elevations have architectural detailing, and yes MDF finishing materials. I apologize to all the purists out there, but it isn’t going to happen if the bottom line doesn’t like it.

But, thirty years from now, our insulated concrete form basements will still be warm, our heating appliances will still be highly efficient and safe, and more importantly, we will have moved the giant financially driven building industry a step forward, because we brought innovation to the industry and sold our product alongside the most affordable new homes available.

Small steps are steps none the less, and gaining momentum is what really matters.

Thanks John for the great site.



Jeff
High River, Alberta
This a quick rant but nonetheless this will show how ridiculous developers in this city can be. Especially with regards to their "Design Guidelines"

I have friends who relocated from Winnipeg to Calgary and purchased a home in 'New Brighton' ( a community near Mackenzie Town). They had observed that their neighbors home was having the siding removed and re-installed. Upon their inquiry as to why this was happening they were informed that the previous owner of the home they are now in was upset that his siding was a match to that of his neighbors. According to suburban 'Design Guidelines' homes adjacent to one another cannot have similar colors in siding. Therefore the siding was replaced with a new siding that had a slight yet barely noticeable color change. There was nothing wrong with the siding that was on the house but is probably now providing shelter for dump beetles and seagulls at one of Calgary's landfills. In my opinion this is an 'OUTRAGE'! For one this is by no means sustainable secondly I think it is absolutely ridiculous that the developer even acknowledged this issue.

End of Rant!

(Originally posted on Project Outrage Facebook Page by Jay Boyce).

John Brown
Calgary, Canada
Jeff,
Thanks for telling us your story. It is important to hear from people who are wrestling with the issue of actually realizing these ideas. The Slow Home movement is a big tent that accommodate a variety of different approaches.


John Brown
Calgary, Canada
Jay,
That is a great example of how silly the situation can get with production housing - both in terms of the design guidelines that try to institutionalize some sort of variety as well as the silly attempt to actualize it. Isn't one color of vinyl siding is pretty much like any other?

(Originally posted on Project Outrage Facebook Page by John Brown).

John Brown
Calgary, Canada
John,

I absolutely agree. I was having a conversation with a friend about how a home offered a form of identity to families in the past because apart from material differentiation the architecture was different. There is no sense of identity or uniqueness in suburban homes other than the slight variations in materials and color palette. The construction, as I refer to it as I cannot bring myself to consider it architecture or design for that matter, of these homes is so mundane and monotonous that it is a wonder people do not walk in to the wrong house at the end of the day.

(Originally posted on Project Outrage Facebook Page by Jay Boyce).

Jay Boyce
Calgary, Canada
GO NEW URBANISM!!

We should have James Howard Kunstler in this group:

http://www.ted.com/index.php/talks/view/id/121

and

http://www.kunstler.com/

(Originally posted on Project Outrage Facebook page by Justin Swabash).

Justin Swabash
I have the pleasure of being one of the first people to get these lovely new sub divisions started. I put in the water and sewer. I'm struck by how many thousands of new lots go in in the Edmonton area each year. AND THEY ALL LOOK THE SAME.

(Originally posted on Project Outrage Facebook page by Mike Holliday).

Mike Holliday
Edmonton, Canada
Mike,
Thanks for the post. It is important to hear about it from "inside the trenches" so to speak.

John Brown
Calgary, Canada
is this group specific to one area, or global? if so, how do you run an effective global campaign against all persons in the housing industry.

(Originally posted on Project Outrage Facebook page by Sam Varteniuk).

Sam Varteniuk
Edmonton, Canada
Sam,
Good question. The main focus of the campaign is North America. However, like fast food, this style of standardized, one size fits all housing is being exported to many places around the world. I have seen suburbs filled with cookie cutter single family houses outside of Glasgow, Paris, Barcelona, and Beijing.

The point of this group, and the larger site (www.theslowhome.com) iis to raise awareness about the existence of fast homes and the problems they pose to our physical and mental wellbeing as well as the health of our cities and the environment. Like the early stages of the anti-fast food campaign our first goal is to have people understand the dimensions of the problem. The next step will be to help facilitate the development slow alternatives that are based in the very localized and specific context of each town and/or region. The focus of this will be North American because it has the longest history with production housing and the least number of viable alternatives.

John Brown
Calgary, Canada
I just wanted to say that I come from a long line of construction workers. I have personally worked mostly in the commercial/industrial aspect of the trade along with my older sister, myself I worked in the trade throughout highschool & university, whereas my sister has made it a career. My father on the other had has worked in the residential and commercial fields throughout his entire life and he, as do I strongly, do not agree with how quickly houses are built these days. I don't believe in pre-fabricated homes that can be built in 3 weeks. I have personally built a Crispy Cream doughnut shop in a rushed 4 week period. North America is a very rushed society, everything has to be done as of 3 weeks ago. It is more than time for a change.



(Originally posted on Project Outrage Facebook page by Di Van Boxmeer)

Di Van Boxmeer
London Ontario
Di,
Thanks for the comment. I agree that it is important to remember that the problem lies with the system and not with individuals. I have very rarely met a person working in construction who sets out to do a bad job. Most are as frustrated by the situation as anyone.

John Brown
Calgary, Canada
Mr Brown,Congradulations and kudo's for taking the initiative to undertake this project.
Originally I wanted to respond to Matt, the poor naive young ladd, all of you have addressed most of my concerns, except to say this.
Matt here are some of the professionals that we all appreciate their high standards. We expect them to take the time to proof their work and ensure that everything is good. We are outraged and should be if they do not because in the end the costs to all of society are unacceptable.

Doctors and nurses, police and firefighters. Could you imagine firefighters not proofing their work?
How about teachers or bus drivers or maybe laboratory technicians. Have you had a blood test recently?
I think you can see where I'm going here, it is up to all of us to hold ourselves to high standards and to proof our work to ensure that everything is done right. Isn't that just a part of the job?
In the long run quality is more cost effective Matt.

Whats my outrage? Hmm where to begin?
Our world in Calgary is changing and growing fast and our infastructure is obsolete before we can complete the construction.
The need to "get er done" creates a boom which punts the cost of every thing through the roof which brings on the short cuts. Meanwhile all of us run around like madmen trying to keep up with this wonderful opportunity and in the process we over use our short cutted construction. Then four or five years later we rip it all up and rebuild to try to make it work. We've grown and grown and gotten so big we've become a maze of dumbgineered roads and traffic circles. Please someone explain the logic of a traffic circle to me, nobody knows how to use them.
If we don't slow down and start to get things right we will have a very big problem on our hands.
It's good to see people like you providing a venue like this for this kind of discussion. Thanks


Name Brad McDougall
City, Country Calgary Alberta Canada
We demand an end to poor construction, bad design, misleading marketing and environmental neglect in the housing industry. Neighborhoods and homes should be built for people not excessive profits. They should be healthy, vibrant, and not require long commutes. They should uplift the spirit and gracefully fit our needs. We believe that everyone has an obligation to create thoughtful, responsible, and sustainable places to live that leave a positive legacy for future generations.

"We have eyes which do not see."

Le Corbusier, Architect

"We are all searching for home, but we are trying to find it by building more rooms and more space. Instead of thinking about the quality of the spaces we live in, we tend to focus on quantity. But a house is so much more than its size and volume, neither of which has anything to do with comfort."

Source: Sarah Susanka, The Not So Big House

Suburban Livability

"In sprawl, you see a lot of activity but not a lot of life. You see the graveyard of livability."

Source: Richard Moe, Changing Places: Rebuilding Community in the Age of Sprawl

Suburban Land Use

"Between 1971 and 2001 urbanization gobbled up 152,000 square kilometers of farmland, an area three times the size of Prince Edward Island."

Source: John Lorinc, The New City

Public Health and the Built Environment

"We now realize that how we design the built environment may hold tremendous potential for addressing many of the nation's greatest current public health concerns, including obesity, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, asthma, injury, depression, violence, and social inequities."

Source: Dr. Richard J. Jackson, The Impact of the Built Environment on Human Health: An Emerging Field

Community Living

"(Suburbs) do nothing to satisfy our social human needs; they do nothing to encourage us to be anything but strangers who happen to park their cars on the same street every night."

Source: Ferenc Mate, A Reasonable Life

Commuting

"At this point, the United States has paved a land area equivalent in size to the state of Georgia."


"From 1969 to 1995, the number of private vehicles per household rose more than 50% to roughly one vehicle per licensed driver."


"Since 1970, the US population has increased 37%, but the distance traveled by the nation's fleet of cars, motorcycles, sport-utility vehicles, and small trucks increased 143%."


"From 1982 to 2000, the annual hours of highway traffic delay per person in urban areas increased from 16 hours to 62 hours per year".

Source: Dr. Richard Jackson, The Impact of the Built Environment on Human Health