Americans are driving significantly less, despite the drop in gas prices over the last year. So concludes Nate Silver, a numbers cruncher named by Time magazine last month as one of the 100 most influential people in the world.
In "The End of Car Culture," an article published in the new issue of Esquire, Silver argues that the 4% decline in per capita miles driven over the last year was caused by lifestyle as much as the wallet. It's no coincidence, he says, that the two cities with the biggest gains in housing prices over the last year—Seattle and Portland, Oregon—are known as alternative transportation meccas.
No doubt unemployment has reduced the amount of driving. I suspect the evolution of telecommuting has also taken a lot of cars off the road. After years of chatter about the virtues of working remotely, the home office may have finally reached a tipping point, with employers more fully accepting and new technology keeping workers connected. (An article in today's The New York Times suggests that Skype has popularized the entire field of videoconferencing.) In cities like Los Angeles, where traffic has gone from miserable to prohibitive, the home office is almost a necessity. That accounts for the surge of interest in backyard structures like the OfficePod (above).
The traditional American home is big on formal dining rooms and entranceways, but its arrangement is poorly suited to private desk work. In flusher times, homeowners would be more inclined to create a workspace by adding on or trading up. But in this economy a cheaper and more expedient option is to order a work shed, like the Kithaus (above) sold by Design Within Reach. (Prices start at $32,450.) They generally do not require permitting, and they can be installed weeks after making a down payment.
Five years ago this might have seemed an oddball solution, but the enormous publicity accorded prefab homes seems to have romanced the notion of a modern structure that arrives on a flatbed truck. Tiny prefab sheds like the Modern Cabana (above) have received a great deal of attention over the last year or so, with admiring coverage in design blogs and magazines, and roughly four times more companies producing them now than five years ago.
The backyard office is particularly popular among women, who tend to do without much dedicated space of their own (unlike men, who have historically laid claim to dens). Ryan Grey Smith of Modern-Shed, a Seattle-based manufacturer of room-sized structures (above) that sell for $7,000 to $18,000, says that roughly 60% of the customer inquiries he receives are from women.
That walk across the backyard may be best commute you'll ever have.
[graphic via Esquire]
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