The Boston Diaries

The ongoing saga of a programmer who doesn't live in Boston, nor does he even like Boston, but yet named his weblog/journal “The Boston Diaries.”

Go figure.

Tuesday, January 22, 2002

Depressing phone call #1

So I call the person responsible for the latest certified letter and the prognosis isn't good. Each person needs to fill out an application and pay a $100 processing fee. Oh, and during the interim period while the Condo Association is considering whether to aprove the applicant or not, the person apply cannot live here.

Well, they can, provided I get a letter from the Condo Association saying it's okay for them to stay here during the approval process.

Yea, right. Like that will happen.

Okay, I suppose it could be tried, but given the force the Condo Commandos have swooped down here at Condo Conner and none of us are really that thrilled with staying here much longer.

Condo Commandos: 1
Residents: 0

Depressing Call #2: more mounting fines

And then I called the head Condo Commando yet again in reference to the first certified letter I received about having a dog (which we don't—we have a cat).

And again, I left a message. Why do I get a feeling I won't get a return call until the 29th?

Covenants, Conditions, and Restrictions

But most new communities seek to pre-empt any such adaptivity by repressive, fiercely enforced “convenants, conditions, and restrictions.” These are the dread “CC & Rs” that homeowners' associations use to control such details as what colors you may paint your house, what pets (and in some cases what children) you may keep, how your lawn will look, your roof, your fence, your driveway (no campers, trucks, or car repair), your backyard (no drying laundry or unstacked firewood).17 Any neighbor might report you. What if you ignore or defy such rulings? The homeowners' association can take your house or send you to jail. Joel Garreau points out that these organizations have all the powers of government—the ability to tax, to legislate, and to police—without the usual restrictions of democratic representation or being answerable to the US Constitution….

What makes homeowners' associations so viciously conservative? Market value is determined not by how well a house works, but how it looks in the context of its neighborhood—“curb appeal,” as it's called. Vast effort has gone into making the development look nice to a carefully calculated market segment, and that must not be undermined. When you sell your nice house (Americans move every eight years, on average), do you want the prospective buyer to see someone repairing their car or putting out laundry to dry next door? Suppose they've got a metal roof instead of tile, or a nonstandard dormer sticking out? Well, if they can't, you can't. This degree of institutionalization of real estate value over use value is odious enough as an invation of privacy, but it also prevents buildings from exercising their unique talent for getting better with time.

17 The CC & Rs of Irvine, California, state that they are “for the purpose of uniformly enhancing and protecting the value, attractiveness and desirability of the Properties.” An excerpt gives the flavor:

Section 7.04. Parking and Vehicular Restrictions. None of the following (collectively `Prohibited Vehicles') shall be parked, stored or kept on any street (public or private) within tne Residential Area: any commercial type vehicle (including, but not limited to, any dump truck, cement mixer truck, oil or gas truck or delivery truck); any recreational vehicle (including, but limited to, any camper unit, house/car or motor home); any bus, trailer, trailer coach, camp trailer, boat, aircraft or mobile home; any vehicle not in operating condition or any other similar vehicle; any vehicle with a width in excess of eighty-four (84) inches; any trash dumpster; or any vehicle or equipment, mobile or otherwise, deemed to be a nuisance by the Board. No Prohibited Vehicle shall be parked, stored or kept on any Lot or Common Area except wholly within an enclosed garage, and then only if the garage door is capable of being fully closed. Prohibited Vehicles shall not be allowed in any driveway or other exposed parking areas, or any street (public or private) within the Residential Areas, except for the purpose of loading, unloading, making deliveries, or emergency repairs…. Garages or other parking areas within the Residential Area shall be used only for parking authorized vehicles, and shall not be used for storage, living, recreational, business or other purposes.”

I added those italics. I had to.

–Stewart Brand, How Buildings Learn

My first reaction is, Gee, I don't know anyone who uses their garage for vehicles! Everyone I know uses them for storage (good thing they don't live in Irvine, CA).

This is what happens when people take their homes to be an investment instead of a living area. Heaven forbid anything cause the value of the home to lower! Good Lord, I'm surprised anyone is allowed to live in such places, because, you know, living means use, and with use comes wear, and with wear comes tear and anything not in mint condition lowers in values (or isn't as high as mint).

Hey! I see a whole new financial arena opening up here! Homes you can't live in! What an investment! The homes are always spotless, pristine. Their value should skyrocket through the roof! How can anyone pass up such a deal! All the drudgery and downsides of owning a home (mowing the lawn, fixing leaks) with none of the upside! But think, the value won't decrease!

little pink houses

The old Levittowns are now interesting to look at; people have made additions to their houses and planted their grounds with variety and imagination. Unlike these older subdivisions, Irvine has deed restrictions that forbid people from customizing their places with so much as a skylight…. Owners of expensive homes in Irvine commonly volunteer stories of not realizing they had pulled into the driveway of the wrong house until their garage-door opener failed to work.

–Joel Garreau, Edge City

The cultural historian Paul Groth says the critics were dead wrong about the Levittowns: “They've survived beautifully. People are proud about adapting them. The original cheap materials wore out, as predicted, and people were happy to put in new materials.”

The garage-door experience has been turned into a tool. You drive down your street of identical houses with the garage door opener pressed on. The house with its garage door opening is yours.

–Stewart Brand, How Buildings Learn, commenting on the quote by Joel Garreau above.

There are quite a few of those Irvinette communities here in South Florida and everytime I see them, I think—Camazotz. It's the sameness of all the dwellings that scare me the most and yes, it can be quite difficult to tell them apart they're so cookie cutter in look.

And then I think back to my paternal grandparent's house (in Royal Oak, MI, just north of Detroit). They had a plain white Cape Cod style home but the other homes on their block: the firehouse red one a few doors down, or the green one on the corner. The two huge multistory homes across the street. The white house with deep red trim. All of them different. All of them with character. All of them with basements (but I digress—you really can't have basements here in South Florida).

My next house there will be no association of any kind. I want to paint my house pink if I wish to.

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