Posts Tagged ‘architecture’

Oak Park Sacramento

7 January 2018

Taking a visit to the Sacramento neighborhoods of Oak Park seemed like a good way to spend a sunny Saturday afternoon. Guided by listings sent to me by a local realtor, I visited some houses in this area that have recently been for sale. I was on my bicycle, and took my time, seeing what these neighborhoods are like.

oak park sign

Palm trees grace a median strip housing a sign welcoming us to Oak Park.

From what I’ve been told, there is a definite push in this area to find new young buyers for houses in this older suburb just a little south of downtown.

And I’ve seen two main ways houses in this area are marketed: 1) Appeal directly to the end user, in which case the house will usually be totally cleaned up inside and remodeled (and cost more); 2) Sell to investors (also known as “flippers”) in which case the house will usually be sold as-is, and for less.

I saw some real dumps (not pictured). But most of the houses, though well-used, seemed to be proudly owned.

3343 32nd Ave

Typical small house in Oak Park.

This typical home was built in 1936. It is less than 1,000 square feet on a lot less than .1 acre. It has 3 bedrooms and one bathroom. The “garage” is detached and towards the rear. There are thousands of houses like this in Sacramento. Even those built in the 1950s or later follow this basic pattern. They were quite commonly built with no particular attention to heating and cooling, and were typically retrofitted with some sort of system later in their lifespans. It is also typical for there to be no basement; the house built on a slab or with some sort of crawl space underneath.

A house like this in those days might have cost $2,500 to build and $5,000 to purchase. Per inflation data online, it should cost $50-100,000 today, but other factors have made housing (mostly land) prices increase more than the average.

3629 9th

Orange tree graces one of the more attractive Oak Park homes.

I have seen many fruit trees in Sacramento gardens and parks. Today I even saw a tree with quite large fruit that could have been a pomelo or breadfruit. I have never seen any of these trees harvested (which is why they were planted). Why is that? Perhaps people don’t want to be bothered with picking fruit from a real tree. Seems a shame.

3839 13th

This house sits sideways on its lot.

I usually only see sideways houses on corner lots, but here’s an example. I can only imagine it was done on the builder’s whim.

3615 23rd

Charm of old-style long front porch marred by chain link fence.

One can tell by wandering around this area that security is a concern to many residents. And if you can’t afford a nice “permanent” fence you might go for chain-link. I would be embarrassed, though, to have this on my property. I would at least try to hide it behind shrubbery.

3531 24th

Front-facing brick fireplace is unusual for this neighborhood.

As a sort of test or experiment, I looked up this last home in Sacramento County’s Parcel Viewer application online. It tells me this house was built in 1941 and the land and house together are valued at $100,000. Asking price is more that two times that.


This little trip through Oak Park brings up several issues that I have become aware of over the years.

What is happening in our cities?

The most obvious answer to this is that someone decided they didn’t want to pay organized labor their negotiated wages any more, so found ways to get their products built in other places where labor costs are lower.

Even if a blue-collar worker retrains to run automated equipment in a yogurt plant (or something), the automation is likewise serving to keep labor costs down, which basically means fewer people employed. So we find people unable to keep their homes or forced to move to cheaper homes. And the land that working-class people used to live on is being recycled into business uses, retiree apartments, and “cool” housing for those who have survived the various crashes and work in banking, government, marketing, or tech jobs located close to that housing. The new residents can then feel good about saving energy on their commute, while the less fortunate serve them food, cut their hair, or take away their garbage, but drive to work from more distant locations.

This could be solved, but not by using the same assumptions and social structures that created the problem. The problem almost certainly has to do with our basic sense of competence. When workers organized, and the manufacturing managers of the modern world were forced to pay them better, things actually got better for everybody. But we didn’t change the fact that the managers preferred to deal with workers who were totally predictable, never talked back, and would do whatever they were told to do. Robots. So they busily set about creating such robots, and they are beginning to succeed. If you told them that they were selling out the human race, they’d tell you they didn’t care. They know how to manage workers who are totally obedient and just need oil and electricity. They don’t really know how to manage real people. People who do know how to manage real people – especially those who enjoy it – are the more successful (and happier) people on this planet. But, unless they know Scientology, they don’t know how to train other managers to operate the way they do.

The fact is, to be successful today requires a level of confront and creativity that fewer and fewer people can easily attain. And that is, as far as I can tell, the more basic technical reason why things are falling apart. There is also an ethics reason for our problems, but if we could handle this technical factor with enough people, the ethics problem would diminish if not vanish entirely.

What is going on with housing prices?

People like Catherine Austin Fitts can tell you more about the details of this than I can. While the basic problem is discussed above, what sees to be happening in the case of housing is that some people saw the decline coming and indulged in unethical actions to benefit from it at the expense of others.

This trend was already rolling forward after the crash of the early 1900s that resulted in the various “New Deal” arrangements to encourage lenders to let more “ordinary” people into the mortgage market. This was basically done using government guarantees to protect the lenders from too many losses. The creation of a “secondary market” also freed up more cash to make loans with.

The market, however, responded to this cash infusion by increasing housing prices (the same thing that has happened to college tuitions as a result of student loans). This gave lenders more income and borrowers more risk. The big problem, of course, comes back to reduced employment. If people can’t keep working, they can’t pay off their loans.

While working at HUD, Catherine spotted operations designed to deliberately trash neighborhoods (by injecting crime like meth labs into them), lowering property values and forcing good people to leave. The operators (criminals) could then buy up the land more cheaply. Revelations like this is what give Mankind such a bad name in this universe. I don’t think most people are involved in operations like this. Just enough to make it hurt.


I have listened to various people tell us that according to certain computer models, society can’t continue with its “usual” economic behavior much longer. It will become impossible to increase prices to keep pace with the costs of producing certain materials, especially fuel. They say we have just lived through a period where the profit margins were pretty good, but that can’t continue indefinitely. Production won’t crash because we run out of resources, but because the cost of production will rise too high.

I hadn’t heard this argument before. But it and related arguments are leading some to attempt to “exit the system.” Most people I know are not taking this approach. They think we can make it through by increasing competences and creative ability. They may be right. Meanwhile, others are learning to live in “houses” that measure maybe 20 by 20 feet, are made from soil (adobe) and other recycled materials for something like $500, and require almost no energy to heat and cool. On top of this, systems are being developed to sequester water in soil so that little or no irrigation of gardens or even grazing fields is needed. That harkens back to an earlier way of living, but the people who are choosing it could survive in relative comfort while others are starving or freezing. Maybe.

I know that the kind of houses Sacramento is full of would not be livable in the winter months without heating. You could get by in the summer without cooling, but not without a refrigerator. However, there is enough land in Sacramento to probably sustain everyone living here now if they just practiced permaculture and stopped driving to work. Of course, the banks would not be able to make money on home loans, government as we know it would probably stop operating, and so might industry as we know it.

So one fear is that the cities would become lawless. They already are, but most of us are protected from the worst of it. I’m not sure how this would actually work out. Certainly there will still be beings who are unwilling to be honest and contribute real help to their community. Beings that know only fear of others and thus feel compelled to lie continuously. Would an economic collapse empower them more or shut them out? I’d rather not find out!

Will there really be radical changes in the near future?

Many people are operating on the assumption that things the way they are now can hold together indefinitely. They aren’t preparing for the future in any way, unless they have an extra money flow that they can save or invest. And that money may not be enough to protect them.

But it’s really hard for me to say. There are a lot of people alive who don’t want it to get worse and are very actively working on various strategies to prevent that. Most of them aren’t saying much or promising much. I don’t think they are sure their ideas will work. But I know they are out there trying. I sometimes wish I could be working with them more closely.



7 December 2017

This post is to introduce a new category into this blog that may get some attention now and then. “Home and Garden” is meant to echo the vibe of the long-time and very popular magazine, Better Homes and Gardens. This has been the fourth best-selling magazine in America per Wikipedia and epitomizes the old American ideal of a privately-owned homestead for raising one’s family and enjoying one’s ample leisure hours.

As I haven’t been a part of that whole scene for most of my adult life, I have a hard time taking it seriously. But there are about 76 million owner-occupied homes in the United states (the statistic has been flat for over ten years), which is one house for every 4 and a half people or so. So it’s a pretty big deal in this country.

And now that I am winding down a bit, the idea of living in a house instead of a room or an apartment has resurfaced in my awareness. And so, this new category.


My discovery of Permaculture came out of my interest in food forests, which is one way that some suburbanites have made urban life more sustainable.

This lead to my interest in the work of Alosha Lynov, who has aligned himself with the work of Michael Tellinger (Contributionism, a moneyless society). They are both living in South Africa, and are into New Age ideas. But Alosha is from Russia. He is young and very gung-ho about Permaculture and building curvy houses out of special cements. He has made lots of videos, including some about his less-than-optimum financial situation. These videos show you how to clean your waste water, create catch basins on your land, and stuff like that. The pics below are from his commercial website.

domed house

A different style of house.

Alosha and Michael

Alosha Lynov and Michael Reynolds.

Michael Reynolds

Michael Reynolds is an architect who has developed a passive solar home design. Most of his designs are for single-story buildings. His emphasis is on reuse of waste for building materials. But his “earthship” design also makes effective use of passive heating and cooling techniques.

Thermal Mass

I had to study thermal mass for a project I’m working on. Certain materials can absorb and retain heat much better than others. Use of these materials inside buildings reduces temperature swings, putting less peak demand on heating and cooling systems. For best effect, the material must be in direct contact with the air in the room, or via a thermally conductive material, like a metal. It also helps for the mass to have contact with the ground. Most ground and soils have pretty good thermal mass. Water also has great thermal mass.

Think of an example of an early human house: A cave. That’s also an example of the use of thermal mass. “Rich” people of old could afford stone houses. Stone is a good building material when you want thermal mass. So are brick and concrete and other stone substitutes. The big problem with bricks and concrete is the energy required to produce them. Reynold’s earthships use dirt pounded into old tires, stacked like big bricks.

Interesting Sacramento House

This house has been listed for sale for some weeks now. It’s on Academy Way, which is north of downtown, but very near a light rail station. I went over to take some pictures of it recently.

house on Academy Way

House on Academy Way in Sacramento.

Note that is is faced with stone and brick. This sort of facing makes a house “look rich.” But if it doesn’t go all the way through to the inside of the house, it won’t contribute much to the thermal mass of the house (only to its mass!).

This is a largish house on a corner lot. It is listed for less than $200,000. Why hasn’t it sold? I can’t fully evaluate without knowing more about the house than is obvious from the outside. I know from observation and the listing that it needs maintenance. Depending on how deep one goes, this could cost a new owner anywhere from 10 to 50 thousand dollars. Thus, a house that looks new can be sold for that amount more than one that doesn’t. There is also the factor that this is not considered a desirable neighborhood. You’d think being close to a light rail station would increase the value of the property. But perhaps in some cases it has the opposite effect.

Permaculture and passive solar design are not happening things in Sacramento right now. But if we want to stay alive on this planet much longer, these ideas will need to become household words.

I plan to explore these topics further in the not-too-distant future.

Earth Day

30 April 2013

According to the Wikipedia article on the subject, the first “Earth Day” held on 22 April 1970 was an environmental “teach in” scheduled during Spring break so more students could attend. The mastermind behind it was apparently US Senator Gaylord Nelson.

However, six months earlier, an Earth Day to be observed on the Spring Equinox was proposed to UNESCO by Christian peace activist John McConnell. The idea was supported by U Thant and subsequent UN Secretaries General, and March 20th is still the official date for the UN’s version of Earth Day.

In the United States, the April 22 observation date persists.

Steven Greer

Steven Greer is a medical doctor from North Carolina (licensed to practice in Virginia) who for some reason got involved in the subject of visitors from outer space. He had at least two childhood experiences along this line.

Greer has been working for quite some time to establish some sort of sensible dialog between the various persons or groups who might actually know something about this subject. He has had marginal success. But last year he raised money from several hundred private donors and made a documentary about these issues which he calls “Sirius” after the closest star to the sun (and the most likely source of external visitors).

This film was released to the public at a showing on US Earth Day in Santa Monica. I purchased a copy on DVD via the internet. Greer is concerned that various government-connected groups may be hoarding ET technologies for military use that could help us solve the energy crisis and other technology-related situations. He also follows a meditation practice and would like to see the planet get a little more hip to the spiritual truth.

Stephen Bassett

Academically, Mr. Bassett is a physicist. Professionally, he was a business consultant. He got involved with the subject of ET in 1995 via Dr. John Mack, a Harvard psychiatrist who studied “alien abduction” experiences. He went on to establish his own organization, Paradigm Research Group.

Considered by some to be more commercially-motivated than Greer, Bassett yet seems earnest about this subject. Bassett scheduled a set of public “hearings” in Washington DC to start a week after Greer’s release of Sirius. They have to do with supposed official contacts with ET representatives, and why officials remain dismissive on the issue.

Not surprisingly, these events have not received much coverage by news organizations.

Dream House

When I am not working, thinking about work, working on my own projects, or trying to follow the news that NPR does not want to touch but which I think is important, I am probably trying to rest.

When I rest I often experience light dreams. These often involve buildings, and recent dreams have been no exception. It could be that one reason I don’t much like to sleep is that I don’t much enjoy this type of dreaming. The images or thoughts can be disturbing or scary. They sometimes swarm in, but in a gentler way than when I am sick or passing out. Have you ever had a fever or passed out, and experienced a kind of mental noise that can seem like a rather large chattering crowd?

But like when I have been sick, these dreams often carry with them the suggestion that there is some important problem to be figured out. Yet the data or images that arise make no real sense and are basically just confusing. It is a very interesting experience, and basically mimics the experience of being suppressed by a criminal.

I have had dreams that were quite tolerable. But these odder and more confusing episodes are more common. Many have involved rather large inside spaces that seem to go on forever and tend to present odd surprises and changes. After a recent one, I resolved to write a bit about this, and call the section “dream house,” a play on words connected with my occasional interest in designing architectural spaces.