Saturday, February 23, 2008

House Hunting in Vegas

Nobody here has ever heard of the neighborhood we want to move into, even though it was built in the 1960s.

I find that bizarre. It is so "unheard of" that they didn't even put it on the maps in the phone book. Some of the streets aren't paved yet. And it's only a couple of miles from the strip! Far closer than we are now.

This had me puzzled for a long time, until I realized that the neighborhood and ward we live in value conformity as an end in itself.

This is a foreign concept to me. Completely. In Colorado, a singer/composer being married to a writer was seen as odd, but "how nice that they are living their dreams". Here people treat us like we're from another planet! The only thing that saves the situation ever is that Tim works for a prestigious producer in an established theater on the Strip.

The conflict seems to stem from the conformity issue. People here value it. We've always seen it as sometimes necessary, but never to be done willy-nilly. I realize that conformity is necessary for society to function, and for people to have a sense of whether or not they are mentally healthy. There certainly is value in being "normal" (and I have cried for not being "normal" many times). On the other hand, the world can't be happy filled with accountants and salesmen (seem to be standard kinds of jobs here, much the same way being a computer programmer was the norm in Colorado). Who would write the music? Who would dance the dances and tell the stories and paint the pictures and create the movies?

People here LOVE master-planned communities. We have always considered them foul. Now we live in one, and it is very difficult to want to come home at night. I actually feel more comfortable back stage and in the back hallways of the theaters than in my own neighborhood!

One of the things that bugs me about the community is that it is a tangible expression of the value people place in appearance over quality. The ladies who have come over thought my "brick" kitchen was great. It bothers me, even though I've always been charmed by brick kitchens, because in this house it is actually still cheap drywall with 1/4 inch slices of brick glued on. And in a pattern that, if it were real brick, would be structurally unsound in places. Part of the charm of a brick kitchen is the sheen and variation 100-year-old bricks get from the oils that are used in the kitchen. Antiques and country home enthusiasts capitalize on this by shellacking the bricks so they take on that red brick glow. These "bricks" aren't even the right color of red, and, to give the wall "variation" that is inherent in old bricks, they put white marks in some of them, which in real bricks would make them prone to crumbling. Or come from scuff marks from years of use (and therefore never show up near the ceiling). The fact that the master bathroom is larger than the kitchen is very tangible evidence of the value people place on appearance here.

I had no idea that low quality really bugs me. But it does.

Another thing that bugs me (and this shows my Boulder-ness) is the lack of energy efficiency in these homes. As I see it, this it the situation: People think new is better than good. Hands down. Every time. In fact, new is better than old all together forever and ever. So the builders figured this out and they want to make money. So they take one acre and carve it into MORE THAN TEN lots (serious). But most people can't live in 600 square feet of space, so they build two stories. With a tiny lot and tiny floors in the house that are an arm's length from the next house, they have to do something to hide the fact that people are buying into a stand-alone condo, so they build the two-story homes as tall as 3-story homes and give the floors high ceilings to give the illusion that you are living in a lot of space. It's volume, though, not useful space. And volume is NOT ENERGY EFFICIENT. Vegas is an extreme climate zone. You actually physically can't live here without using energy to make it livable. Not comfortable. I'm talking purely physically survivable. So people have two air conditioners and two furnaces in their homes. The homes, to fill the need to appear wealthy, have huge windows ( it goes!). They have steeply pitched roofs with colors chosen for cosmetic appeal rather than efficiency. They are so close to each other they reflect heat and hold it between them, never releasing it to the cool night sky like deserts are wont to do. The walls are thin (cheaper!). And with all these houses crammed close together in a city of millions, I have seen ONE house with solar panels on the roof.


They should ALL have solar panels. Who are we kidding? A dozen or so have black piping on the roofs, which I assume is solar-heated water. That's good. They ALL should have that. In fact, the entire empty desert land surrounding the city should be frosted with solar panels. There's enough sunlight here to power the city and then sell to neighboring states.

But it doesn't matter to people here because those things (along with the foot-thick adobe walls people used to have in the desert for a reason) are ugly, so they just use more non-renewable energy.

They don't even plant trees (in the name of conservation of water, I think). There are desert trees that do well here. I'll stop short of saying "native" but there are desert evergreens, and mesquite, and all kinds of desert trees, actually, that they put into the cactus garden in the city, but not in their front yards. These houses should be completely surrounded by shade producers, preferably deciduous ones (like mesquite trees) so that they get the natural heat in the winter, when it does get cold enough to be noticeable (35-45 degrees some days), but not in the summer when it could be deadly.

I'm not even sure the houses have those argon-filled sun-proof double paned windows. They should. Or huge overhanging roofs or some other form of built-in sun shades to keep direct sunlight out of the windows and off the walls.

They don't even have ceiling fans in all the rooms. How hard is that? (Pretty hard, I guess, since they didn't bother to put overhead lights in all the rooms. Whoever puts lamps in a kids' bedroom?!) There certainly is an abundance of light switches (and they are inconsistent. It's driving me crazy that the bathroom light is sometimes on the right of the fan switch and sometimes on the left, depending on the bathroom, so I always get the wrong one!)

It's driving me crazy.

So when we try to express to people that we are looking to move--soon--they are baffled. How on earth could we want to leave the most prestigious neighborhood in the city (second to summerlin) to live in Enterprise (and where is that anyway?). They just can't comprehend that prestige doesn't matter a spit to me, at least when it comes to housing. (I wouldn't mind having a prestigious performing award for Tim, or writing award for me, but that's not for bragging rights. That's because those kinds of awards guarantee future employment, and that IS important). What matters to me is that my neighbors aren't watching me.

And that my kids have space to play (and not the "huge" 6000 square foot lots they have here--I want closer to 10,000 square feet! Or even 40,000--that's an acre). I thought grass mattered, but I discovered here that the kids don't want to play on the grass. They want to dig it up. A big dirt lot would be perfect for them--it's one giant sandbox/off-road bike trail/construction zone/ mudhole/ creative space to them. The kids won't play outside here because there is nothing to do on all that beautiful grass that mom won't let them water soggy and dance on. There is a reason, I see now, that kids always went to the vacant lot next door to play.

What we've discovered is that houses built before central air got to be all the rage (say, the 1960s and 70s houses) _are_ built better. Higher quality. Not so cookie cutter. And with comfort and efficiency in mind. They have bigger lots (up to almost an acre in some areas of Enterprise) so the houses aren't sharing each other's heat. They are one story buildings, which are far more suited to the area (no basements, either, because the ground is so hard the rain just pools--and floods basements). The roofs are pitched (to avoid that flat-roof suncatcher problem we had in Longmont), but just barely. That way there's enough attic to catch the worst of the summer sun, but not enough to hold it forever. There are large overhangs on the roofs in front (forming walkways with arches) and in back (forming large patio areas). The large lots are not desert landscaped (which is not natural, just not water-consuming). They are NATURAL--that means just plain old dirt, thank-you very much. The houses are white or cream colored, with light-colored roofing. There are mature trees around the houses.

And, call me crazy, I want one of those.

1 comment:

morelightthanburden said...

We lived in a neighborhood like this too and only just moved out of it for the same type of reasons. The people were really truly and honestly good people, but it was like living in high school again--and I don't mean the fun parts of it. The funny thing is, it was just a bunch of starter-homes in Lehi and now we live in an old 1975 house just south of the Bountiful Temple, up on what most people would consider Nob Hill. However, I have found the people here to be even more genuine and truly Christ-like. No competition like the old neighborhood, just open-your-arms love and open, loving hearts.

I also understand about quality. D and I have often had the conversation. And efficiency? Yup, understand that too. In fact, some of my daydreaming involved always planning more efficient ways . . . for anything.

I also hate conformity (though, like you I realized some of its intrinsic value) and have also shed many tears over it. However, I always find, as I'm sure you have, that I would rather follow my heart and the Spirit and, all too often, that tends to lead away from conformity. Funny thing that, eh?