Boston Public Radio Podcast
3:31 pm
Tue January 28, 2014

Historian Nancy Koehn On Why The McMansion Is Back

After the the economic collapse of 2008 'big' was no longer big. 

We learned the hard way that "too big to fail" was a fable. Our banking system was undone by its colossal size, buckling under its own precarious weight. Big cars were maligned too. Once loved Hummers were soon loathed and kicked to the curb to make way for smaller, more earth-friendly cars. People started scaling down their lives, too. Job hungry college grads, unable to spread their wings, returned home to room with mom and dad. 

So far, all the signs that our society is constricting and becoming more austere, 'big' is making a big time comeback in an unlikely place: the housing market. 

Credit By SanjibLemar via Wikimedia Commons

When the housing bubble burst, the market was saturated with unsold homes, development came to a screeching halt as did the McMansion creep. Gone were the newly built manses with multiple bedrooms, master baths, and entertainment rooms that rivaled the amenities of any multiplex. But they weren't gone for long. It turns out that house hunters in search of  super-sized  homes didn't lose their appetite, they just went into hibernation. Now they've awakened from their slumber,  and as New York Times reporter Jim Rendon puts it in his recent article, "when it comes to homes, bigger is again better." 

Today, people who can afford to buy big homes are buying them. It's the lower end of the market where things have stalled, as the middle class continues to shrink and the dream of buying a home is indefinitely deferred. So, is the return of the big house another way to look at our class divide? Is this another manifestation of how the 1 percent live compared to the 99 percent?

On Boston Public Radio's "Open Mic", Harvard Business School historian Nancy Koehn joined hosts Jim Braude and Margery Eagan for her take on today's skewed housing market.

It's a must hear conversation that touches on everything from how she places today's wealth inequities in the context of  history, to her solution to narrowing the wealth gap. It's one that we could only wish that President Obama would include in Tuesday night's State of the Union address.

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