San Francisco of the near future could be a place where thousands of young high-tech workers pack into 12-by-12-foot boxes in high-rises, each equipped with a combination desk/kitchen table, a single bed and the overall feel of a compact cruise ship cabin.
New York City planners believe the tiny units could be the answer to a growing population of singles and two-person households. And in a nation that's becoming increasingly populous and increasingly urbanized — and where people more frequently are creating a family of one — such downsizing may not stop here.
Councillor Wolfgang Duntz sees tiny houses as a potential creative solution to affordable housing needs. “If the regulations we have in place don’t make it possible, we need to look at those regulations and decide if we are willing to change them,” he said. “I see this as a pilot project that we can watch and see how it goes. Then we can decide whether it was a mistake or it went great.” Duntz believes that the question of housing affordability will not go away and demands a creative approach. “This project is different, it’s not mainstream. Rather than finding a reason to say no, how can we say yes without making sure that it doesn’t turn into a problem?”
"It's not for everyone and I respect and understand that," says Nevits, while also eschewing the familiar trap of too much stuff. "People think they need more than they need. How much of it just ends up in a garage sale? Stuff just makes my life more difficult." To that end, he looks forward to a simple space and a simplified life.
Those problems are environmental ones. Dietz and Williams see the tiny house movement as an important stepping stone toward sustainability and carbon footprint reduction. The small size of the houses alone means that substantially fewer materials are needed for their construction.
Small housing need not be ugly or cheap looking. The rehabilitation of old traditional housing stock and sensitive infill of new, contextually sensitive homes in the Cotton District of Starksville, Mississippi, provides myriad examples of small-scale, highly efficient housing types.
The average American home is between 2,000 and 2,500 square feet in size. Jay Shafer's handcrafted 89-square-food house on wheels is so small he can almost parallel park it. Ecological concerns have combined with an uncertain real estate market to give a big boost to the small-house movement, which promotes simple living in houses ranging from just 70 to 800 square feet, small enough to fit on a flatbed truck and pull into a field or farmstead.
Over 50% of all American homes have a single head-of-household, and this is growing. All these single people simply don't need a biggie McMansion. With the baby boomers approaching retirement and more professional single folks in the market place, we expect the demand for quality, smaller custom housing to skyrocket. It's a trend that needs to happen on every level: sociologically, environmentally, and economically. People are asking themselves: 'how much is enough?'
Most of us have noticed the trend: new subdivisions filled with McMansions pumped on steroids, neighbors who demolished their cottage and replaced it with a mini-castle, the friend of a friend's childless brother who just added on a third bedroom. Maybe you've heard the story of a couple who 'lost' their toddler in their new, huge house. Many of us know someone who has suffered the consequences of an inflated mortgage, an overwhelming construction project, or a house simply too large to keep clean. Will our dream home always be a celebration of excess, and a drain on our lives? Is it, as one of our former presidents said of the American way of life, 'not up for negotiation'?
In the spirit of treading a bit lighter on the planet, a new trend in sustainable living architecture is what is called "microgreen living"—literally the creation of tiny homes where people challenge themselves to live "greener" lives. This idea, which sprang from eco-awareness and the reduction of carbon footprints, has led people to consider low-impact living as a "greener" alternative to ordinary housing.