Sunday, October 19, 2008


Here is a picture of a new house that has just gone up. I pass it every day on my way to work, and it has gone up quickly. I have various thoughts about it. First, I think the tradesmen must be very happy for the work. Second, I wonder who has the money/financing to build it. Third I wonder if it is already sold, and if so, why does it look like all the other houses on that block. And fourth, I wonder why they are building it, since of those other houses on the block, at least three are empty and for sale.
We used to complain about the ugliness of the development. The land was formerly farmland, so it is without trees, and the houses are cheap-looking and identical. A lot happens on this new house in one day-- those cannot be real bricks along the trim put up by a real bricklayer. I think it must be prefab. These are cheap houses, and the people living in them are making a go of things. They're working class people, working in a variety of businesses around St. Cloud. This is a "coved subdivision" which allows for larger lots and meandering streets that appear nicer, and maybe discourages speeding (though I fear just reduces visibility and means people are taking curves fast, instead of straightaways). There is the appearance of an upscale subdivision-- but really it's just new. It's not nice. Still, it's attainable and a middle-class aspiration. There are several stay-at-home moms here offering daycare. You can tell those houses by the kids there playing on the driveway waiting to be picked up at the end of the day, and by the amount of play equipment in the backyard. Trampolines with those hideous safety nets around them, and the big wood swingset/playsets. Lots of riding toys. In the summer, those giant rubber bladder pools. In a word, crap. There is a nicer subdivision on the other side of a large park I walk in near our house. The quality of the homes is higher, the amount and type of landscaping.

My husband Steve was a Catholic high school teacher for years. He left that after he had a vision of growing and selling trees to these people in these new subdivisions. He learned how to do lawn seeding and basic landscaping, bought some machinery, and totally changed his life. And he started a tree nursery, which now has maybe a couple thousand trees in it, none of them big enough to sell. He has done some seeding jobs in the new development, and built some folks in that other, tonier subdivision, some raised garden beds, and done some seeding there too. Mostly, though, he goes out to an even nicer subdivision, in Sartell, where he gets a lot of jobs. What he would like to do is more native plantings, "prairie resto," and jobs converting farm properties to prairie and natives. He is a big promoter of fescue, an imported but low-maintenance, eco-friendly grass. The people in this subdivision just to the North of us are not investing in fescue. They're installing sprinkler systems. On credit. He recently did a job for a couple living just northeast of us, and the guy asked, as a matter of course, if he could pay $100/month until the job was paid off. That's not really the way things are done-- you get the service and you pay upon completion. But this guy, he doesn't pay for anything upfront, or all at once. There isn't anything, he doesn't believe, that can't be taken care of on a payment plan.

I wonder about this subdivision near us. There are lots of homes for sale-- many by owner. Some are empty. No one is investing much in trees, or landscaping, or finishing details they left for later (I love the sliding glass doors to no-deck, though I can't speak on that one, since we have two on this very house built in 1987). These are the people who are going to "feel it" now that the economy is changing. I think I'm going to have a good view, and that's not necessarily a good thing.

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