Posts Tagged urbanism

The Case For Mass Transit

train
Recently one of the hot topics for our local political race for Mayor of Charlotte, NC has been what we call our light rail.  It has been debated heatedly on both sides and recently had some wins for it.  The big issue with the light rail and street cars is that it has been historically not very well managed.  Charlotte’s sprawl is pretty insane for the population it has roughly 1.8 million people in the “city” of Charlotte.  I put The word city in quotes because it’s about the looses use in terms of a densely packed city as you can get.  Our city or downtown area is no more than 10 block by 10 blocks, where everyone lives outside the city.  The sprawl is immense, going over a hundred miles in any direction.

It’s pretty funny when you are in Fort Mill South Carolina and you ask them where they live and they reply “Charlotte” but that is the mentality of the Charlotte area, we all want to live in Charlotte, but we want a full on house with a 2/3 acre lot.

I found these great videos about Cincinnati’s push for mass transit and it sounds like our own here in Charlotte in a way.  Now being from Charlotte, not Cincinnati I can’t really speak on house close these two scenarios are, but they do share some similarities and makes a case for mass transit in general.

First up is a viral marketing ad they made about their street car which is pretty funny.

What impact did/does mass transit have?

Here is a news report about the street car

A Dialogue Of Hope

So the other night I had just went to see a movie and soon afterwards ran into some other folks from my high school years.  We started talking about what everyone was doing when one of my friends chimed in that he was writing a thesis about New Urbanism.   We started talking about all these issues surrounding this topic: gentrification, neighborhood schools, the need for anchors in the community and how Charlotte, NC has approached the issues surrounding new urbanism.

two houses and shared space

Later we talked about how the Tiny House Movement fits into this notion of urbanism.  My friend noted that when he reads this site, he gets the notion of building the Tiny House in the woods, away from it all.  It’s true, I tend to focus on this, which I am at odds with.  The fact is to truly maximize sustainability in the highly populated world we live in today, we must come together and live in a more dense area.  I know that to truly usher in my way of living, one that is green and ecofriendly, one that is sustainable, one that focuses on local, one that focuses on community I must live in an area that is more densely packed.  The issues of course is how do you live in close proximity to others, while still having room to roam, to connect with nature and ensure a high quality of life.

Today’s urban centers are as my favorite author/speaker  James Kunstler “the greatest misallocation of resources in the history of the world, you can call it a technosis externality clusterfuck and it’s a tremendous problem for us, the outstanding problem is that there are places no one cares about”.  And that’s the rub, the urban manifestation is a place that no one cares about, that pushes out the poor, the minorities or if that isn’t possible, we turn to the phenomenon of “white flight”.  We talked about how we need to create places that are local, have your anchors (schools, stores, grocery, churches, living, office space and a non-salient parking plan for double the intended capacity), how these need to be with in walking distance to each other, but where you can go to other centers via mass transit that people actually want to ride.  Preferably we want a place where cars aren’t allowed in the main pedestrian areas, so long as you have lots of parking underground that allows the area to be permeable.

Main Street Spring2

As we discussed all these huge issues I realized that this was a really extraordinary event happening, I was in awe!  Each person standing in that circle, talking about these huge issues, these progressive issues, these ideas that I feel will change the world in an impactful way, we were from such wildly different backgrounds.  I am the only self described “eco friendly” person, the others were not a polar opposite, but represented many different sects of society.  I was astonished, not that I think of them as stupid, but that they don’t have a logical reason to know this much about new urbanism and surrounding issues.  That essentially regular people had their finger on the pulse of such progressive and important issues was amazing.

It gave me a glimmer of hope that this dialogue that we were having about new urbanism, environmental issues, sustainability and community/local focus might be happening as a whole with people my age, that this generation, which has been sometimes labeled as useless, might be growing to inspire a new age of responsible and progressive thinking.

ScreenHunter_02 Nov. 21 11.38

Now before I get too excited I took a step back to really look at the group and who we were.  I am seeking a PhD, working for Americorp and running a Tiny House blog, my other friend is a researcher at Duke University, the next girl is a social psychologist pursing her masters at Columbia, finally my friend who is a politician/going to Davidson College, who lost while running for a major office in Charlotte by only 3% at the age of 22 with no money.  These are admittedly not normal people.  But I hope that this dialogue is happening outside of these circles.  That my generation is talking about these issues with their friends, so that when we start taking hold as the baby boomers slip into retirement, that we can usher in a new age of socially and environmentally responsible corporatism in all areas of our lives.

small houses close to each other

Cage Homes

1

I found this story over at CNN, its about cage homes in Hong Kong.  If you haven’t heard about these, they are essentially bunkbeds that are sealed off with cage wire so that people can lock them when they aren’t there.  They are the size of a single bed and are about 4 feet tall for each “unit”.   You have to share a bathroom with everyone, but the kicker is this, guess how much it costs for one of these in Hong Kong?  $167 a month!

There has been recent outcry about the deplorable living conditions which a large number of people live in.  Above is a photo of one of these cage homes that was used in an art exhibit to raise awareness of the growing trend.  Among the cage homes, cubical farms have been cropping up where people pay to live in, about the same rate.  In a city where houses have sold as much as $9,200 per square foot, no wonder why people go to these extremes.  The questions is, what is the solution?  With such densely populated urban centers, space is getting less and less accessible.

Read more about it at Reuters

Land Sharing

Part of the issue of tiny houses is figuring out where to put them.  While building codes are so restrictive, it simply isn’t possible to legally place them on land in most states. landshare There is a county in my state of NC where the minimum square footage is 2500 square feet!  I continue to feel that the only viable is to buy a large chunk of land and have your house nestled deep within it.  But this presents a large barrier for some, including me at the age of 25.  Once I do get a sizable piece of land I have often thought of opening it up and sharing with other tiny houses to form a tiny community.  The group would contribute to a community garden, upkeep and improvements.  There would be public areas such as botanical garden, small park, perhaps a pool or swimming hole.  I apparently I haven’t been the only one thinking about this.

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall is a national treasure–a writer, organic farmer, chef, t.v. personality and passionate believer in local communities. His latest venture is “Landshare”–a scheme which puts people with large unused gardens in touch with gardeners wanting space. He calls it a “food revolution destined to be the next great thing.” With more people wanting to grow their own food and allotments being harder and harder to come by, he just may be right.

It is a simple and optimistic idea. People register their interest as a grower, a spotter –someone who has seen land in their area that may be suitable for growing–or an owner. The register, once it is up and running, will put these people in touch with each other.

The facts are that 80% of Britain’s population live in towns and cities, Britain’s food travels 17 trillion miles every year to reach our plates and it costs four barrels of oil per person to feed us every year.

So there is a good reason why the concept is growing and others are proposing variations. “LandFit” is another group that is “encouraging local food production by matching would-be growers with under used land.” They too want to increase opportunities to grow good locally by bringing untended and ignored bits of land back into use. They see it is a way to not only grow food and encourage organic gardening but also as a way to discourage anti-social behaviour. It’s a variation on Jane Jacobs all over again: when you have a well-kept street with local people interested in what is going on then you have a sense of community and involvement.

It is complicated and political because it involves land ownership and the use of private property by others. The group is in the process of discussing matters such as ” governance issues, and developing a model agreement between gardener and ‘lead stakeholder’, and ways in which LandFit style agreements can be supported.”

These are two examples of groups trying to come to grips with sustainability in food production, taking control of food production and the growing numbers of people interested in gardening but without access to land. Landshare and LandFit

New Urbanism

While I may have a Tiny Lifestyle blog, I have always been trying to really hone in on what the Tiny Lifestyle truly is.  It is more than just owning a tiny house; it is a culmination of many things which leads us to a life which addresses human needs that we find are absent in our lives.  It’s seeking more time, discovering ourselves and loved ones.  It’s getting back in touch with nature; I would even go as far as saying there is a spiritual side to it as well.

I feel that the course we are going on as humans isn’t sustainable in both ecological and psychological terms.  With so many humans on this earth we are feeling cramped, we lack room to roam, time to be and other needs of the human condition.  What does this all have to do with Urbanism?

Like I said the way we live today isn’t sustainable in many ways, we must rethink, reengineer and adjust our behaviors.  With 6.5+ billion people on this world urbanism will happen and we have to be smart about it.

So today I want to share these a few videos (if you only watch one, take time for the first it’s phenomenal) about building better.  There are many people who are part of the Tiny House Movement that do so in an urban setting.  For those of you whom are a bit more remote, while these things talk about cities and urban area, there are undoubtedly gems we can gleam.  Whether these ideas are used to develop your community, your own tract of land or a small community of tiny houses, these ideas are invaluable for the backwoods or cities alike.

 

 

More great videos after the link