My pondering on this topic began back in April prompted by a Cap’n Transit Rides Again piece on the trade-offs between desires, say, for big homes and lots of land that will require cars to move you around and how—cue Rolling Stones here—you can’t always get what you want (his follow-up post delves into the trade-offs between desires a bit more).
I got re-prompted yesterday by Chris Brogan suggesting we may want to rethink every assumption—as it happens, also on the value of home ownership or car ownership—in response to Richard Florida talking about the Great Car Reset and a decline in driving among young people in particular.
I find myself wondering about the inherent bias toward owning rather than renting or sharing.
It's built into the tax code—I get to deduct my property taxes and mortgage interest. There are policy reasons stated for this; you’ll hear the assumption that neighborhoods get greater stability and attention to external maintenance from home owners than from renters.
This ownership orientation in the tax code provides great encouragement for over-consumption of housing. Up to some limit in the tax code (I don’t know what it is and don’t ever expect to approach it), I get to deduct more and more if I buy bigger and bigger houses. In essence, people who own smaller, more compact homes (and consume fewer resources) subsidize someone else’s bigger house through this tax shift.
Since bigger houses are also typically farther apart, I get to help pay for those roads to get their cars to town, too. (Yes, I know, you pay more taxes on a larger and more valuable home; I just don’t think you’re paying the full cost of your externalities. See the APHA on the hidden health care costs of transportation for starters.)
A mildly radical notion submitted for your consideration: Is ownership the be-all and end-all?
As new models emerge like Zipcar that enable the convenience of car use without the ongoing expenses of car ownership, maybe we'll see some shifts in this. Or to take it a step further, the Zimride model of ride-share matching through Facebook--all private owners willingly exchanging uses and needs.
I wish my neighborhood (small houses close together within walking/biking distance of downtown and on a transit line) had a "big tool exchange" system whereby we don't all individually have to own a lawn mower, edger, hedge trimmer and all the other big, noisy accoutrements of lawn maintenance.
Ninety-nine percent of the time we're not using these things so why couldn't someone else? But someone has to create, manage and fund such a system, as well as get everyone to change the psychological orientation toward ownership. That's a big job.
This co-op mentality may be near-communism to some, and American individualism gets in the way. Perhaps the up side of the economic downturn is that people won't be able to afford all the ownership they want and will have to look for other models.
Would you be willing to share ownership in things you don’t use very often? Do you know of models for things like the tool exchange I suggest? Are you changing your thinking about what you “have” to own?