IN THE 1988 COMIC FANTASY “BIG,” Tom Hanks played the part of ‘a teenage boy, spurned by an older girl at a carnival, who asks a magical fortune-telling machine to make him “big.” When he awakes the next morning and looks into a bathroom mirror, he sees the face of a young man staring back at him. Complications ensue. Eventually he has to choose whether he wants to continue to try to be the up-and-coming toy marketer a young woman has fallen for or abandon the charade and get small again. He opts for the latter, locates the elusive fortune-telling machine, hoping its magic still works. It does.
No such magic exists for reversing the transformation of a modest early-20thcentury bungalow in an older, gentrifying neighborhood into a 6,000-square-foot, faux-European mansion. Nor is there an elixir for the shocked sense of violation many residents of such neighborhoods feel when it happens on their block. The character of their place is ruptured. Whether they realized it or not, the features of that place had seeped into their own sense of self. With a chill, they realize something important has been lost, and the loss can feel unexpectedly personal.
In the last couple of decades, as population growth and migration have led to seemingly endless sprawl and longer, more arduous commutes, the desirability of urban neighborhoods built 80 or 100 years ago, during the first great wave of suburban expansion, has risen dramatically, bringing middle- and upper-class homeowners back to these neighborhoods in large numbers.
On the whole, this has been a good thing—especially where historic preservation ordinances have encouraged the restoration of existing homes. In the absence of historic preservation measures, however, and without other protective zoning, the incentives to maximize investments in small but now very costly residential lots have proved irresistible. Mansionization has been a direct result.
We have been reporting on this phenomenon for several years, mainly in our “American Bungalow News” pages. Lately, though, it has begun to seep into our feature articles as bungalow owners, designers and builders explore alternatives to the crudest forms of mansionization. Now, in our conversations with readers and during our travels to bungalow neighborhoods across the land, we’re hearing the other part of this story—the part about what dwelling in a particular, beloved place means to people, and how critical this sense of deep inhabitation is to their personal and social well-being. We want to begin sharing their stories as advisories, as flags of preventive optimism.
Because once these places are lost to the fantasy that big is better, no magic will bring them back.
Looking forward hearing from you,
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