“They were taking part in the latest chapter of being, two or three generations back, an immigrant family coming to America. There was a certain progression there. To have an Italian peasant father or grandfather, and then to work your way up to a house on an acre or two, somewhere far from the hustle and bustle you grew up with—what a thing that must have been.”

Great piece. It may be a constant of generational turnover that recent history isn’t taught to kids, because the people old enough to be teaching kids history can’t conceive of their own formative years as being “history” yet. We only come to understand where our parents came from as we come of age, and the years leading up to their own birth start to enter the historical narrative.

My dad’s family was part of the great American migration to California in the ‘60s, before the ‘70s degrowth movement choked off the construction of new housing. They moved from frigid Minnesota into a shiny new suburban subdivision on the fringe of the LA metro area. His parents had descended from Polish and Italian immigrants, growing up during the depression in a small Chicago apartment, and in a cabin in rural Montana, respectively. The progression from that kind of childhood deprivation, to the sun and warmth and space of a suburban home in SoCal must have felt like such an apotheosis of “the American dream.” My mom’s family correspondingly moved from Ohio to Florida. Ah, the ways air conditioning, cheap oil, and suburban commuter highways will reshape a nation.

My parents were once again a part of a mass immigration when they left California, joining the boom of the Portland area in the ‘90s. They got in early, but over the course of that decade the sentiment of “damn Californians driving up housing prices” took Portland by storm, just as it has continued to spread in the intervening decades. As an ambitious kid who grew up in a sleepy little suburb of sleepy little Portland, I’ve now reversed their move and am living in San Francisco—just another droplet in the wave of young people moving from suburbs to cities. All these individual decisions to move to a particular place are so personal, and yet put together they’re all pieces in the story of the nation.

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Interesting read! I've been thinking about this a lot recently, as someone who grew up in a Long Island suburb and has seen the housing development happening there with larger and larger single-family homes being built each time I return, dwarfing my parent's turn-of-the-century California ranch in comparison.

I think there is an added component of what each generation finds important when it comes to housing, similar to the thesis of this piece. Whereas millennial's parents wanted to have their own land to spread out on, anecdotally my friends and I have all left the suburbs in search of walkable, semi-urban or urban environments (in my case even returning to the part of the city my family moved from in favor of the suburbs). I wonder if the extreme rate of development happening around my hometown will translate well to what the next generation of homebuyers and beyond will be looking for when it comes time to buy, if they're not already priced out.

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I felt all of this, Addison. I grew up in both apartments and a big house. The big house came when a relative died and my dad moved us back to his hometown to live in it. The details are still murky, I'm not sure when exactly he got the title to the house in his name because there was always an understanding that it belonged to my grandpa and he loved to remind us.

So, I know what it's like to grow up in a big house that never felt like mine, and it's been like that all my adult life. That's my baseline normal I guess. Living in houses, some big, some small, that never feel like mine. I have aspirations of buying one someday, if only to feel like I have something of my own... but since I'll have to use a mortgage to buy it, is it really mine? And if not, can I accept that for 30 years or whatever until maybe one day it is? My parents aren't deluded anymore into thinking if I just work hard enough I can have everything I want, although that was what they hoped for me growing up.

Thanks for writing this, lots to consider.

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