PATH - A Public Private Partnership for Advancing Housing Technology

Occupancy Scenarios: Flexibility to Accommodate Choice and Diversity

[IMAGE: Big family?]US households are changing. According to recent Census data, married couples without children make up the largest block of America's homes, followed by singles. In fact, married couples with children, who represented the largest group of households a quarter of a century ago, now account for only a little more than a fifth of households today. Living arrangements in households are also changing, and the average household size is shrinking. The numbers are more varied than ever in history.

The families within our homes are increasingly diverse, too. Many citizens are living and working longer, so about one-third of US homes are owned by individuals over the age of 55. Continued foreign immigration and increased racial diversity also impact many of our homes and communities.

These demographic changes have direct implications for the size and kind of homes in which we live. We expect different things than yesterday's homes can provide. Here are some families that demonstrate this.

Urban Infill -- Modernist Townhome

Scenario One: Michael and Emily, a recently married young couple, purchased a home downtown so that they could easily commute to work and enjoy the restaurants and night life the city has to offer. Emily works at a start-up biotechnology company and Michael works for the local government. They both frequently bring work home. They take public transportation to work and only have one car for their expeditions to the suburbs for serious shopping.

While living in the home, Emily became pregnant with their first child, Jenni. The couple transformed one of their rooms into a nursery while child-proofing the rest of the home. Until their child is old enough to participate in the local pre-school, they have in-home childcare at a neighbors' house. They still eat out frequently and enjoy putting Jenni in the stroller to visit local shops and playgrounds. When they find out that Emily is pregnant with their second child, they realize that they need more space and amenities for the kids. So, they decide to move to a nearby suburb.

Scenario Two: Michael and Emily sell their house to Tom and Clare, who moved from the local suburbs where they raised their children. They always wanted to live in the city and enjoy all of the amenities it has to offer. Tom is retired, but Clare continues to enjoy work since she took time off to raise their children. She works at a small non-profit organization just outside the city. They own one car for Clare's reverse commute.

Tom and Clare are very active now, but they plan to age-in-place in their urban townhouse. While at the theater, Clare slips and breaks her hip. Their middle child who never married moves home to help care for Clare. She talks her parents into installing an elevator so that they can remain in the home during Clare's convalescence.

New Urbanist Community -- Single-Family Detached Home

Scenario One: Joe and Carla purchase their first home in a new planned community. They choose the community because of its diversity. Carla is a first-generation American. Her family moved to the US from the Philippines when she was just one year old. Much of her family lives in other nearby suburban communities. Joe's family is from the South. They live a few states away. Joe and Carla also like the community because they can walk to schools, parks, shops, restaurants and the grocery store. They have three children, aged one, three and six. Though they have a small yard, they spend a lot of time visiting the park and playing on their front porch. They know many of their neighbors who wave from their porches as they walk past.

Carla thinks it is important for her children to understand their cultural history, so she incorporates that into the layout and functional design of her home. The kitchen is the most frequently used space, and all entries to the kitchen are the most traveled in the house. All family members leave their outdoor clothing and shoes in the mudroom so that they don't track dirt through the house. Joe has a short commute to his office. Carla stays home with the children. They have two cars for commuting and shuttling the children to classes and games.

Scenario Two: Michael and Emily sell their house in the city and move to the suburbs, next to Joe and Carla's home, when Emily becomes pregnant with their second child. Their second child, Jack, is born with physical disabilities. Jenni, their first born, is four years older than Jack. Michael commutes to the city for work. Emily buys a second car to take her son to doctors' appointments. Emily decides to get a part-time job at the tech center near their home. Since their son needs full-time care and Michael and Emily still want to have time with Jenni, Michael's widowed mother moves in to help care for Jack.

Content updated on 1/5/2007

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