Monday, June 09, 2008

The Housing Preferences of "Gen Y", and What They Tell Us

One of the best things about having a blog that your family and friends know about is having good links sent to you. My eagle-eyed mother-in-law directed me to a great story in the Charleston Post and Courier by Stacy Downs called "Gen Y in a Rush for Change in New Home Style". It can be pretty difficult to track an entire generation of people, but there are definite trends and themes one can pick up if one looks hard (or has one's mother-in-law looking hard for one!).

Here's the key quotation from the article, which includes an interview with three members of "Gen Y" (the second answer is the most interesting):

Q: Many Gen Y'ers grew up in McMansions. Is your parents' big house your dream house?

Colin: No. I want a smaller space so it's easier to take off and go. A house that's low-maintenance is good. Generation Y traveled a lot in college and will continue to do so through life, so a big yard isn't a plus, either.

Townsend: No. I think that seeing so many of our generation's parents divorce makes us understand that family togetherness is important. So as we start having kids you will see us avoid homes with a living room, family room and finished basement rec room in favor of open-plan homes where the family can share space.

The matter of note in this second response by "Townsend" is the shift in desired architectural style. This young man, Ryan Townsend, wants a home in which the entire family is compelled to be together by the very shape of the house. The style of home of recent decades in which various rooms draw various family members holds little pull for Townsend and at least some of his peers. Many of us have seen and grown up in homes in which the family was separated according to the function of rooms. The kids' play area is in the basement, and so the kids go down there, away from the influence and presence of their parents. The parents stay upstairs, dad watching the big tv in his living room, mom bustling around, perhaps in the kitchen. It is this kind of social segmentation that Townsend and others are rebelling against. These young people see a direct link between architecture and family cohesiveness, and they want to restore this link, believing it to have been broken in recent modes of the family.

I don't know if you're tracking here, but this sidenote, buried in a short article in the Home & Garden section of a Charleston newspaper, is revealing. It shows us the deficiency of the modern mindset. Where once families were (forced) together by the small size of their homes, many modern parents intentionally structured their dwellings to separate the different members of the family. How interesting that this architectural decision mirrored and shaped the larger social patterns regarding the family. It is clear from the rise of the divorce culture and the fracturing of the traditional family in the last forty years that life has mirrored architecture. Where the family once lived together, played together, and slept together--literally in the same room, an unthinkable notion for most Americans--now we do our daily business in isolation. As with so many social trends, it is not clear how much this architectural trend drove the dissolution of the American family, and how much of it was merely a reflection of the dissolution. These chicken-and-egg questions are tough to sleuth. I'm guessing that the two worked hand-in-hand to fundamentally reshape the traditional model of the family.

Whatever the answer, it is clear that "Generation Y" is not bereft of common grace, as it sometimes seems to be in the portraits painted by social commentators. Many of this generation have seen the marriages of their parents crumble. They do not want the same. This reality has so shaped them that they will alter their lives in the most basic ways in order to give their own families the best chance of unity and cohesiveness. All is not lost with the current generation of youngsters (my peers). As with every generation, there are signs of darkness, and signs of common grace. Though their parents might have the cars, the homes, the nice jobs, and all the trappings of conspicuous consumerism that signal high status in our land, the twentysomethings of today know the reality behind these trappings. Many of the "McMansions" that so many of us so easily covet have none of the heart that one finds in the humbler domiciles of the land. This is a lesson for us to read and learn from. The exterior, however eye catching it may be, does not tell the full story. In a world in which riches so easily ensnare, it often covers over a multitude of sins.

The other major lesson here is, interestingly enough, architectural. Simply put, how you structure your home matters. You might not think that, but Mr. Townsend has a point, a great one in fact. He's seen something very basic, so basic, in fact, that most of us would overlook it altogether. The home's structure will naturally shape the life of the family living inside of it. If you lay out your home in such a way as to cordon off family members from one another, that is likely what you will get. Your kids may well grow distant from you. Dad and mom may pursue their own interests and spend less time together. It seems that one of the very best things a family can do to grow close and glorify God together is to, well, be together. Not real complex, is it?

There is something profound that happens when people occupy the same space. They learn to love one another, to quickly resolve conflict, to work together, to talk to one another, to share stories, to work out life's difficulties, to fashion character by quickly and unselfishly forgiving one another, to pitch in and help with household duties, to listen and subordinate one's narcissistic urges to dominate the conversation, all under the watchful eye and direction of dad and mom. Isn't this what the "experts" are always telling us about family meals--that simply eating together is incredibly helpful for healthy rearing of children and cultivation of togetherness? How shocking. It's not therapy and individuality and fanatical devotion to outside pursuits that strengthens the family--it's simply being together, spending time with one another, allowing dad and mom to shepherd their children and the children to interact and grow in a safe and loving environment. It seems that the traditional family structure, however outdated and simplistic it may appear to our twenty-first century eyes, had a great deal of its theory right.

A final note of application concerns our church buildings and how we structure them. Are they set up to encourage fellowship? Or are they split into a thousand sundry classrooms and boardrooms? Is there a large chunk of common area for people to get together and talk? Or have we so segmented our buildings that people find it impossible to get together? One of the best things about my alma mater was that it had a massive quad that drew students like flies and that encouraged the entire campus community to gather in a common place. Many of our church buildings would benefit from a similar design, I think.

Who would have thought that the way we structure our homes will radically direct the quality of our families? On this matter, the "Ys" clearly have it--if we would seek a healthy home, we've got to structure it accordingly. The structure of the building will shape the quality of the home--and we're not talking about the shutters and stairways, but the relationships and experiences.

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Anonymous Ryan Townsend said...


Thanks for your clear, intellectual commentary. Several readers of the Kansas City Star- the original newspaper where the Generation Y story appeared- had strong negative reactions to the specific paragraph you quoted. I appreciate knowing that at least SOMEONE understood what I was saying!

Incidentally- the topic shift in your last few paragraphs was amusing. I wrote my college thesis on comparative Christian groups and how their Church Architecture reflects their beliefs. Maybe that was the origination of my thoughts on how a house can shape its familiy! Everything is tied together, you know.

Ryan Townsend
(Yes, I was googling myself. Sorry.)

1:37 PM  
Blogger Al said...

Interesting, would it be profitable for most small New England Church to tear they old buildings down and start over with a new design?

A visitor told me after the service Sunday that this church is going to be gone. (Few young families) Maybe, but small things are loved of the Lord. 1 Cor. 1:26-31


4:12 AM  

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