I saw a commercial yesterday for a series of concerts put on for Habitat For Humanity and it got me thinking about a problem I've always had with HFH, all the effort they put in doesn't go far enough. If somehow you're not aware of HFH, they get volunteers to build homes for people who can't afford a new home. The lucky family has to help build the place and pay back some of the cost, I believe. It's a very feel good thing for the people involved and for the few families that get houses out of the deal, it's great. What I want though, is for them to go at the problem on a much larger scale. I want HFH to build cities.

Continually pushing the "dream" of owning your own little house on it's own plot of land only means you're pushing the dominance of the suburb, without a doubt one of the major causes of environmental destruction we've come up with as a species. What Habitat For Humanity should be doing, instead of doling out 1 house at a time, even 1 neighborhood at a time as they do in some places, is renovating existing large buildings into apartment style homes. There are tons of empty "big box" buildings sitting there doing nothing when Wal-Mart consolidates 5 stores into one mega store, or when some grocery store goes out of business. These could be converted into very nice sized apartments for half a dozen families, or more in the case of some of these caverns sitting empty all over the landscape. There's nothing inherently wrong with an apartment over a house unless you're obsessed with having a yard and if you're getting a house from HFH you shouldn't be too picky. Building high density housing structures not only better utilizes the existing infrastructure, it prevents the city from spreading out needlessly. People here in Albuquerque especially are obsessed with moving farther and farther out "because the houses are so cheap" without thinking about the extra cost in driving, in maintaining more gas/electric/water infrastructure, etc. Meanwhile, there are literally dozens of mammoth buildings sitting empty on huge parking lots.

Part of this idea would probably involve changing zoning codes for these buildings but that's not a bad thing either. Mixing housing and commercial buildings is one of the best things you can do for a city. Nobody wants to live next to a power plant but few poor families would complain about living next to a Best Buy or a Krispy Kreme in exchange for low mortgage payments and a place of their own. All it takes it a little redefinition of the dream of a home.