WHY DO THE SUBURBS ALL LOOK ALIKE? May 8, 2023 | Just For Fun | real estate , new homeowner , entertaining Fans of architecture and those that frequent open houses “just for fun” may have expressed a similar sentiment. Why are all the homes in that new development so “same-y”? Old homes seem to have much more character - why would anyone buy a new home? Or, put in another way, why do the suburbs all look alike? Every city has similar areas. Rows upon rows of houses that are identical to one another, maybe with slight deviations in color, which all result in a dizzying maze of monotony. The truth behind this phenomenon finds its beginnings nearly eighty years in the past, when a sudden need for housing led to an innovation that was too good not to replicate. The Beginnings of Tract Housing As veterans were returning from their service in World War II, society had to adjust quickly to the sudden surge of people and the new families looking to settle down with their own homes. With demand through the roof, the real estate investment group Levitt and Sons realized that they could purchase a large tract of land with the intent to divide them into small plots for quick, easily-constructed homes. This idea proved to be a huge success, as “Levittown” sprouted on Long Island, providing homes for rent to thousands of families. These “tract homes” filled a need during a time when housing was extremely limited, though their weaknesses were clear. To put it plainly, Levittown’s homes were very repetitive by necessity. Levitt and Sons, with speed and cost-efficiency in mind, repeated designs and bought materials in bulk at discounts. As a result, these homes were nearly identical down to their railings, doorknobs, and nails. Since the advent of tract housing, this strategy has been repeated to create affordable housing across the United States. Unfortunately, this has also resulted in that bland, repetitive feel that suburbs stereotypically fall into. There are many neighborhoods built across the nation with the intention of maximizing profits, at the cost of regional identity. The Modern Suburb and Fast-Casual Architecture Today, repetitive, homogenous homes and buildings in general may seem more common than ever before. Part of this is due to the natural advantages that tract homes have in cost savings, but this may also be the result of the standardization of building codes across the United States through bodies like the Federal Housing Administration (FHA). Many regulations established by the FHA were great for improving the average standard of living for families. The FHA is credited with modernizing mortgage practices (further increasing the affordability of homes), developing guidelines that made roads more car-friendly, and setting minimum requirements for a home’s habitability. Side effects of new standards also led to general optimization of homes and neighborhoods (see the emergence of cul-de-sacs everywhere). In the multifamily sector, the effects of homogeneity may be more severe than anywhere else. As the majority of developable land within cities highly favor single-family homes, multifamily property developers are extremely limited with where they can build and how they can ensure they receive a profit. “Fast-Casual Architecture” is the result of constraints on multifamily properties. Buildings that are incredibly boxy and repetitive, clustering in downtowns and heavily trafficked areas that are sure to draw more than a few eye-rolls from passersby. Lovers of architecture and regional creativity are known to yearn for an ambiguous yesteryear when these modern monuments weren’t so prevalent, and the desire for profit over all else hadn’t yet found its way into so many aspects of society. The truth is, things may not be as dire as some make them out to be. Is This Really A Problem? Looking all the way back to the origin of tract housing, the current housing crisis today might just demand a similar, fast and efficient housing solution as the one that Levitt and Sons discovered back in the 40s. Affordable housing is at a premium in America today, and builders are searching for creative ways to meet those needs such as office-to-residential conversions , new legislation with renters in mind , or pushes for more “tiny homes” (a office-to-residential conversions pursued to combat California’s homelessness problem). The reason why so many cities around the country are building similar homes and properties to one another is because they are dealing with similar issues. As in the case with this Washington, DC wharf reported by Bloomberg , perhaps an iconic building isn’t always the most important feature of a city. Sometimes developments are used to fit a need, and when builders have more freedom to express some extra architectural creativity in conditions that are more friendly to the practice, they will. Whether your home looks identical to your neighbor’s, or your home is older and chock full of character - no home is truly the same! Schedule a home maintenance inspection with NPI to learn the true condition of your home today. If your home was built within the past year, you may be entitled to repairs thanks to your Builder’s Warranty. Learn more by calling your local NPI inspector today!