Saturday, September 8, 2012

Tiny homes are an elegant solution

Image from

The world is urbanizing. The U.S. is mostly urbanized (around 80 percent in cities) and many of the modernist ideals have had unintended consequences: spreading uses out has lead to long commute times, traffic congestion and diminished urban settings. The tall towers are just as much to blame as the low-density "sprawl".

There seems to be a consensus amongst the urban quality profession that densification is necessary for cities to grow in an economically sound way.  But how do we densify without creating crap?  Many of the newer apartments are garbage, in my opinion, especially around the fringe. That's not what higher density needs to look like. Amongst the multiple options for creating an interesting - connected - urban environment, tiny houses can play an important role.

Diversity is critical to quality urbanism

Over the decades, we've learned that creating urban environments with blank facades and cookie-cutter houses is boring and lacks something. That something, as Jane Jacobs wrote about, is diversity! It's interesting.  When people walk, they prefer places with other people and interesting things to look at. Not a highway.

A walk is much more pleasant in an area with sidewalks, trees, birds, squirrels, buildings, architectural features, vendors, street performance and human beings than one with highways and exchanges. Diversity is the difference.  A highway exchange could be very interesting with more diversity.  Imagine a European style village built around an exchange - houses, shops, cobble-stone. I think the second would be more interesting. Diversity is a crucial ingredient to quality urbanism.

Tiny houses multiply diversity

One thing about tiny houses is that they increase diversity.  It's interesting to look at a tiny house.  Imagine you're walking down the street and you see a tiny house. You'd look at it. I know I would.  They're interesting.  They're often built at a much higher quality than larger homes. They're pleasant. They add to diversity.

This diversity effect, also, multiplies.  Suddenly, the proud owners of these tiny homes have extra cash. They are no longer tied down with a mortgage, maintenance and insurance. They now have money to spend on a diversity of goods and lifestyle opportunities (like travel). This multiplies the diversity effect beyond just the built, interesting, urban form. It allows for a diversity of activities. 

Simple, practical solution (except legally) 

As a Masters candidate, I fully understand the burden of debt.  It's really something to know that you'll have to make loan payments equal to half the price of a mortgage for 10 years.  Plus, I'm told that urban planners should stay "open to experience" and traveling for, at least, the first part of his/her career. I'm sure many other professions offer the same opportunities.  With a tiny house, a person could live in a very high quality place without the burden of high monthly payments.  Freedom!!!!

Tiny homes make sense for many, many reasons and Cities' Codes often require minimum sizes - inside and out. It's told as a case of insurance companies and home-builders pushing large sizes.  And, as a consequence, it's often challenging to find a legal home for your home. Most of them are built on trailers or in rural areas to get around the codes, but imagine a world - for a moment - where you decrease size, increase diversity, increase density, increase quality, increase sustainability and increase savings without sacrifice on location.  Tiny homes are, simply, a part of the solution.

 A Tour of Jay Shafer's Tiny House

Texas Tiny Houses


  1. Having read this I thought it was really enlightening.
    I appreciate you spending some time and energy to put this
    article together. I once again find myself personally spending way too much time both reading and commenting.
    But so what, it was still worth it!
    Also see my site > Mississauga Condo

    1. I'm glad you enjoyed the article. I'll be sure to check out your blog.