One of the biggest contributors to humanity’s carbon footprint is housing. By 2020, 60% of Earth’s human population will live in highly concentrated urban areas, which are notorious for straining natural resources and contributing to global warming, yet only 1/8 of the planet’s surface is suitable for people to live on. The rest is ocean, deserts, and mountains. Adding to this dilemma is the fact that civilization is already crowding out both agricultural lands as well as wildlife habitat. This is an environmental time bomb that is ticking ever louder. A contest inspired by the tiny home movement may be part of the answer, however.
The Tiny Home Movement to the Rescue
One way to combat this problem is to reduce the size of the average home. In the 1950s, the typical American family lived in about 1200 square feet. That has doubled in the decades since to almost 2400 square feet. In many cases, much of that space is wasted. A common issue among homeowners is what to do with the “spare” bedroom or the “extra” family room. Most often, these unneeded areas are used as storage space for items that could be sold, donated, or recycled, yet every inch of it adds to the home’s impact on the environment, through the extra materials used, and the energy needed to alternately heat or cool it.
In response to this growing problem, many people are going in the opposite direction. They are purposely choosing to partake in the tiny home movement. Singles and couples are finding that as little as 100 square feet is enough for them to dwell in quite happily. Entire families share homes that take up 500 square feet or less. These ecologically sensitive people use a variety of ways to buy or build structures that are cozy, energy-efficient, and have minimal impact on the earth, all while complying with housing codes and laws.
Tiny Houses Go Urban
One of the limitations of this approach has been the fact that large cities have traditionally discouraged the construction of smaller-sized green homes. New York mayor Michael Bloomberg is working to change this fact. “Developing housing that matches how New Yorkers live today is critical to the city’s continued growth,” he said in a recent interview. “People from all over the world want to live in New York City, and we must develop a new, scalable housing model that is safe, affordable, and innovative to meet their needs.”
City Zoning Requirements Waived
Bloomberg recently announced a contest to design micro-apartments to accommodate the city’s growing population of single and single-parent households. The competition will put designers and builders in competition to develop a plan for a housing complex made up of individual housing units with 275-300 square feet. Each unit must have a bathroom and kitchen. Innovation and sustainability will be major criteria for determining the winner.
All proposals must be certified by the Enterprise Green Communities Program, which provides guidelines for safe, green, cost-smart housing. The funding for the competition is coming purely from private sources. “With this important housing pilot, New York once again leads world cities in devising creative solutions to the challenge of accommodating growth in an environmentally sustainable way,” said Kathryn Wylde, president of the non-profit Partnership for New York City.
The initiative is part of Bloomberg’s New Housing Marketplace Plan. This is a long-term project that will either preserve or create 165,000 affordable housing units by the end of 2014’s fiscal year. A conference for interested design teams was held on July 31st, and the deadline for proposals to be submitted is September 14th. This tiny home movement hopes to be the wave of the future.