Tiny House, Tiny Living, The Tiny Life.

Posts Tagged community

Vermont Tiny House

Vermont has quite the tiny house scene. Only two weeks after moving up here we came across our friend KJ’s tiny house and heard about several more! Back in SC, we were pretty much the only tiny house folks that we knew about but it seems Vermonters have had tiny house fever for some time! Today I want to share this wonderful tiny house that our friend built and currently occupies with her bull mastiff!

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The house currently lives on a farm and sits on a 8 1/2 x 16 foot trailer with two bumpouts that serve as storage and sleeping space. She has a hard wired, 20 amp circuit that allows her to hook to a breaker box in the barn next door and although she has a clawfoot tub she recently bought, she does not having running water in the house.

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While taking a permaculture course, KJ was exploring a less toxic, less material based lifestyle. She was living in yurt in Vermont and realized that it was not the best living situation through the long winters. It took a lot of wood to heat it and keep it warm for one person so she nixed the idea of buying a yurt. She became especially interested in gypsy wagons and began researching other small living alternatives, such as school bus renovation, back in 2008. Then she moved in to a tree house on a goat farm owned by a couple of architects. She revealed her dream to build a tiny house and she says their eyes lit up! They agreed to help her in exchange for goat sitting on the weekends. Two months of building and she had herself a house.

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The house is built with pine that was cut and milled from the forest on the goat farm and it was built specifically to her measurements. She’s thinking up new ideas for the house and planning to remodel the downstairs to have a narrower staircase and a space for a table and two chairs. The best things about living the tiny life? The strong sense of ownership and accomplishment is certainly a strong sentiment for her. “It’s mine, I made it!” is the first thing she tells me when I asked her the above question but also living in a non-toxic space and escaping the materialistic bent of our consumerist culture are among the positives to living this life.

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Small Space Design: A Societal Bridge

I found this project out of Italy working on  small space design and was intrigued by it. The difference between this project, dubbed the Freedom Room, and the slew of others out there: it was designed by prisoners.freedom room A training program was created through a collaboration with the research center Cibicworkshop and the research and design cooperative Comodo to provide the necessary tools to the prisoners of Spoleto, Italy’s correctional facility to create functional, beautiful and innovative small space design.

freedom room1 While their motivation is driven by forced small space accommodation the project is a reflection of far-reaching opportunities. The collaborators envision the rise of new social dynamics and innovative solutions to re-shaping communities and neighborhoods. That’s definitely in line with what I heard Jay Shafer speak about at a workshop last summer. It’s what many small space designers and tiny house builders are searching for. A shift in consciousness and the wider societal embrace of less is more.

freedom room2That such a project is coming out of a correctional facility really struck a cord with me. Prisons are places that are often tucked away and hidden from the daily life of citizens yet it’s impact and reflection on our society is poignant. That these inmates became the designers and project consultants of this prototype reflects innovation in design as well as social involvement and prison reform. 

Some of the issues that small space design is addressing includes inflated housing markets, high unemployment, increased underemployment, capitalist consumerism and the overt display of materialism of McMansions among other ills. Many folks interested in tiny houses can attest to this, including myself. The Freedom Room is a project design based on living under restraint but has shown what ingenuity born of necessity can initiate. It can be directed for use in the everyday life of people around the world and the collaborators hope that the project will serve as inspiration not only for other prisons but all manners of needs within society. It is another model expressing the simplicity and beauty that small space design is capable of achieving across the societal board-from inmates, to student dormitories, to hotel rooms to tiny living spaces.freedom room3

I find this project to be an inspiration in many ways.  As a prototype it addresses the major issues of decent living within penitentiaries and educational rehabilitation of inmates within the prison system. It reflects the viability of small space design in ways I’d never even considered. That somehow gives me hope that, eventually, more and more people will come around, give tiny living a try themselves, whether that means 100, 300, 500 or 1000 sq. feet, and perhaps consider reducing their footprint and finding the joy in simpler living. freedom room4

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A Path To A Tiny House Community?

As of late I have been chatting with several tiny house people about what it would take to actually have a true tiny house community that was legitimate, legal and welcome in a city.  It would be very easy to do this in a small rural city location or somewhere in the Midwest where there isn’t anyone for miles, but the fact is most people want to live near a city where they have career opportunities, a social life, things to do and ease of access to stores.

30wczo-600So how might we achieve a tiny house community in a decent size city?  I was speaking to another writer who had taken an interesting approach that I think might work here in the US (he is located in Canada).  They were able to get their tiny houses designated as a RV, and then they pooled their funds to buy out a mobile home trailer park.  From there they waited until all the current leases had lapsed (they notified the residents that they would not be renewing the leases) and they had an entire trailer park to themselves.  Now I have mixed feelings on this, but I think you could navigate this step in a way that is ethical and fair, but it is fine line for sure.

The key to this strategy is that you have to buy out an existing park, because there are few big cities that are allowing land to be newly zoned for trailer parks or camp grounds.  Many cities are shifting to mixed income housing to handle low-income housing.  Once you own it, I think the first step would be to clear the entire lot and do some heavy duty landscaping and design.

Your Turn?

  • What do you think about the idea of buying out an RV park?
  • What ideas have you had to get a tiny house community started?

Building Community Continues

Part 2

In my last post I discussed the community Cedric and I live in and how La Casita has brought neighbors to our door. I’d like to continue exploring this topic  in terms of how you create and sustain community.  I’ve been involved with several non-profits and grassroots groups over the past 8 years that have helped me learn about community building. These experiences, especially bicycle advocacy, assisted us in building community around tiny houses in Charleston. My hardest lesson, however, has been learning how to sustain the community we create.

In 2008, Cedric and I along with a group of friends founded the Holy City Bicycle Cooperative (HCBC). It was the first community I had been a part of that found its beginnings on the internet. Cedric had started a website without knowing a single person in the biking community but  a simple site brought together a group who had all been working separately. Through our combined efforts we had a co-op within a month. I actually met Cedric for the first time at that meeting and when I left I was amazed at how quickly the internet had brought us all together. The Tiny Life is a fantastic example of an online community supporting and encouraging a physical community. Hearing stories, exploring other’s projects and being able to stay easily connected is essential to growing and sustaining any community.

Besides the wonders of the internet, networking has been a driving force in my experiences in community organizing. Conferences are an awesome way to meet and learn from others doing similar work.  HCBC members used to attend a conference held once a year called Bike!Bike! Different cooperatives hosted each year for 3 days of workshops, races and potlucks. When we came home we had increased energy and renewed excitement in our projects within the cooperative.  I’d love to help organize a conference for tiny house enthusiasts and have a chance to network and learn from all the rad folks out there that are creating a wider support group for other tiny lifers.

Visiting other projects is another way that we’ve built community which we learned when leading a community garden non-profit. The people behind the projects we assisted were always an incredible inspiration. We experienced further inspiration within the tiny house movement when we stopped in at Boneyard Studios in D.C. this past summer and checked out how they’re attempting to create community. It’s no easy task, with weary neighbors and hostile city zoning it’s persistent work that builds tiny house community. We’ve learned that connecting to people face to face is essential to such growth.

That is what we’ve attempted within our neighborhood-connection. I try to acknowledge everyone’s presence, from the children running through the streets to the dealers on the corner. I look people in the eye, ask how they are doing and acknowledge their presence. I often get the sense that folks don’t expect this. Some people look at me with surprise at being addressed. Being raised in the south where strangers often greet one another in the street, you’d think this would come more naturally to me. Alas, I was raised by a northerner and I was not instilled with this sense of southern manners. I have to push myself everyday to open up to strangers and take a moment, set my intent and actively greet people. And it’s paid off. I hear friendly voices in return, even from some of the most hardened looking of neighbors and that has been my reward.  Friendliness as well as general respect.

I’m excited to see what Jay Shafer has up his sleeve with his new venture Four Lights as well as other community builders such as Boneyard Studios. It will be interesting to watch the progression of these and other movements. For me, living in community is the best way to live the tiny life so I’ll be keeping a close eye on these projects as well as any others that are out there. Collaboration breeds inspirations so let’s work together!

Your Turn!

  • What do you envision when you think of community?
  • What actions do we take as individuals to continue moving towards supporting one another in building community?

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Building Community

Part One

Living the tiny life has a lot of benefits but it is certainly not without some difficulties. Living in roughly 200 sq. feet makes it unrealistic to have certain conveniences. Cedric and I realized from the beginning that in order to live our lives the way we did in larger spaces, we were going to have to reach out to our community.

We have been living in La Casita in a city setting, in the middle of downtown Charleston. It’s centrally located, we have a great landlord and our neighborhood is not only welcoming, but genuinely interested in LaCa.  Folks yell out to us on the daily, “I love your house!” As I am sure you can imagine, it didn’t take long to get to know the neighbors when everyone was curious to find out what we were doing living in their hood.

Because that is where we live. In a hood. At least that’s what all the neighborhood children tell me. We live here because to live in a tiny house in the heart of this city, as in many cities, we have to live where there are bigger fish to fry than zoning issues, mostly in terms of drug crime. We knew getting to know neighbors and building community was going to be key to lying low from city officials and their substantial list of zoning laws but we also needed avoid tension within our neighborhood. It helped to have a longtime family friend living a block away but we certainly didn’t realize how much positive attention La Casita was going to receive and how it would help us find a home in the neighborhood.

We live in a pocket neighborhood in which most of the home owners are older black folk and their families. Reaching across the racial divide in Charleston is still a sticky situation that, at best, is breached through religion or work.  I’m still trying to figure out if tiny houses can help bridge some of the social and cultural differences among the citizens of a city whose economic roots stem from slavery. From what we’ve experienced LaCa certainly starts many a conversation that steers toward deeper issues. I’ve had conversations about cypress siding that lead to a discussion on material reclamation and the economy of freeganism. I was chatting to a neighbor about road regulations and tiny house mobility ultimately leading to a debate on zoning and low-income housing possibilities. It’s rather amazing the doors opened through such a tiny space!

Whether old, young, black, white, rich or poor, we’ve had every kind of person come up to our home and ask us what we are doing and how we did it. It sparks interest and has helped us break the ice on many occasions with neighbors. We would tell them our story and in turn they told us theirs. It just seems to make sense to a lot of people we meet that having a space that is payed off, can be moved around and doesn’t cost much in resources is a great way to live.

Once we settled in,  we had an outdoor party and invited friends and neighbors for a bbq. We had a great time and since then I’ve enjoyed endless porch conversations with my neighbor on the corner, helped fix the bikes of the kids on our street and shared countless good will in the form of cookies, dinners and beers with the people who live near us. Without their support we certainly would not have found such a comfortable, fulfilling space in the city. To live in a tiny house for us is to often rely on others for help in situations such as hosting a friend or a family member who comes in to town or throwing a dinner party or just doing a banal chore like laundry.  We experience larger living through community and it meets basic as well as social and spatial needs that can not always be met by a tiny house. For us, it’s the best of both worlds.

 Your Turn!

  • Do you think community is essential to the Tiny Life?
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