Sunday, December 18, 2016

Tiny Houses, Big Lessons


The tiny house movement has captured the imagination of many through shows like HGTV's Tiny House Hunters.  Newly-built houses have been getting bigger on average for decades (now about 2,600 square feet!), and therefore less affordable, at the same time that income inequality has been rising and renters and first-time home buyers are under extreme strain in many parts of the country.  While tiny homes have been defined in various ways, typically they have less than 400 square feet (37 square meters) of floor area.  Rising consciousness about the environmental impacts of development, including climate change, has caused some people to question our over-consumptive lifestyles.  Some also yearn for a simpler life, with less stuff, less debt, and less dependency on any given job.  Tiny House Hunters is an addictive show because it takes you into this novel world of housing choices from the perspective of regular people who are considering downsizing for various reasons.  The show makes clear that tiny living can be a pretty dramatic change.  Yet for some, it's just what the doctor ordered.

It would be easy to dismiss the tiny house movement as a fad pursued by a few eccentric people.  However, that would be a mistake.  While some tiny living situations are indeed extreme, the basic instincts of the movement are important.  Do we really need so much space?  Do we really need so much debt?  Wouldn't simplifying our lives help us to focus on what is really important?  These are profound questions.  Yes, tiny living can be kind of extreme, but the status quo of home building in America is also extreme.  The market is giving us McMansions that few can afford, while regular people struggle to eke out an existence.  We work too much to light, heat, and cool too much space which puts too much strain on the environment and our physical and emotional well being.

Tiny house philosophy reminds me of New Urbanism in many ways.  These two movements may have much to learn from each other.  Urbanists could point out to tiny housers that the size of a lot can have just as profound of an impact on the environment and your wallet as the size of a house (i.e. small lots save land from urbanization, reduce travel distances, reduce maintenance obligations, etc.).  Tiny housers could advance the agenda of urbanism by advocating policies that make it easier to build tiny homes, small homes and accessory dwelling units (ADUs) in existing cities.  Why not take that McMansion and divide it into two or three reasonably-sized homes?  Why not build an adorable granny cottage that is fully accessible to the disabled in a back yard to facilitate a semi-independent elder care arrangement?  Why not go back to building homes that are neither tiny, nor giant, in the 500 to 1,500 square-foot range?

Yes, tiny houses do contain big lessons, and raise profound questions.  The way we live is a reflection of what we value, and by offering this new model of living, tiny houses are advancing a significant critique of our value system.

Plano de una unidad de alojamiento auxiliar y unos pensamientos

Un plano de sitio para una unidad de alojamiento auxiliar.  Haz clic para hacer más grande.

Hay muchas buenas preguntas en esta vida.  ¿Por qué acabo de dibujar un plano de sitio para una unidad de alojamiento auxiliar (UAA) a las dos de la mañana, por ejemplo?  Eso es fácil.  Mi esposa y yo estamos para tener un bebé, ¿y quien puede dormir en un tiempo así?

Una pregunta mejor sería, ¿por qué es tan difícil recibir la aprobación de construir una UAA?  Estas unidades serían una manera sencilla de añadir oferta de alojamiento en vecindarios que ya existen.  Una UAA puede ser una casita de abuela para ayudar en ciudar a un padre viejo, mientras manteniendo una cantidad de privacidad para ambos.  La vida asistida es muy costosa y por tanto no una opción para todos.  Una UAA puede ser una casita de la generación millenial, una manera de cuidar a su hijo de 25 años que no puede pagar el alquiler (en parte porque es tan difícil construir el alojamiento) sin ponerse loco ambos.  Una UAA puede ser una manera de ganar más dinero para pagar el costo cada vez más grande de su casa.  Construir así en áreas ya urbanizadas protege al medio ambiente por evitar la urbanización de áreas naturales en las afueras de las ciudades y por permitir que la gente viva cerca de donde trabja en vez de manejar desde 100 kilómetros donde el alojamiento es más asequible.  Las UAAs pueden ser hechas en una manera en que no se pueden ver desde la calle (como mostrado arriba), así manteniendo el ambiente visual de los suburbios.

Las respuestas a mis preguntas retóricas también son bien conocidas a mí.  Mucha gente tiene miedo de este tipo de cambio.  Es miedo de pérdida de estacionamiento en la calle, miedo de pérdida de privacidad, miedo de ruido, miedo de arrendatarios, etc.  Pero amigos, la única cosa que tenemos que temer es el miedo mismo.

Es un tiempo excelente pensar en estos tópicos en California, ya que SB 1069 y AB 2299 van a tomar efecto el 1 de Enero de 2017.  He escrito de la importancia de estas leyes ya.  En breve, básicamente quitan el poder local de decir no a una UAA cuando pides un permiso de convertir espacio ya existente, que es un cambio muy grande.  Los gobiernos locales todavía tienen mucha autoridad de decidir donde puedes hacer una UAA como estructura nueva o adición, y hay un punto muy importante allí.  Si vas a tener una política muy restrictiva en contra de las UAAs para nuevas estructuras y adiciones, ¿por qué no convertiría la gente su garage?  Mucha gente no usa su garage como edificio de almacenar vehículos como es la intención de los códigos de reglas de zona.  Digo que una UAA como la mostrada arriba haría un trabajo mejor en enfrentar las preocupaciones de la comunidad que un garage convertido, ya que en este plano, el garage es mantenido, y hay espacio en el sitio para estacionar más o menos cinco coches en tándem.  Eso requiere que los gobiernos locales sigan el espíritu, no solo la letra, de las nuevas leyes de UAAs.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

An Accessory Dwelling Unit Plan and Some Thoughts

A site plan for an accessory dwelling unit (ADU).  Click to enlarge.

There are a lot of good questions in life.  Why did I just draw a site plan for an accessory dwelling unit (ADU) at 2 a.m., for example?  That one's easy.  My wife's about to give birth and who the hell can sleep at a time like that?

A better question would be, why is it so hard to get approval to build an ADU?  These units would be a great way to add to the supply of housing in existing neighborhoods.  An ADU could be a granny cottage to help take care of an aging parent, while maintaining a respectful amount of privacy.  Assisted living is insanely expensive and therefore not an option for many families.  An ADU could be a millennial cottage, a way for you to house your 25-year-old kid who is having trouble paying rent (in no small part because it's so hard to build housing) without both of you going insane.  An ADU could be a way to earn some extra rental income to afford your increasingly unaffordable house.  Building infill housing protects the environment by preventing the urbanization of greenfield sites at the edge of cities and by letting people live closer to where they work instead of driving in from 60 miles away where housing is relatively affordable.  ADUs can be done in a way where they are not even really visible from the street (as shown above), thus maintaining the visual character of suburbia.

The answers to my rhetorical question are also well known to me.  Many people are afraid of this kind of change.  It's fear of loss of on-street parking, fear of loss of privacy, fear of noise, fear of renters, fear of traffic, etc.  But friends, the only thing we have to fear, is fear itself.

It's an excellent time to be thinking about these issues in California, since SB 1069 and AB 2299 will go into effect on January 1, 2017.  I've written about the significance of these bills before.  Long story short, they basically remove local discretion to deny ADUs when you apply for a permit to convert existing built space, which is a huge change.  Local governments still retain broad authority to decide where new structures and additions that will become ADUs can go, and there's one very interesting point to be made there.  If you go super-restrictive on new structures and additions, why wouldn't people just apply to convert their garages?  Many people don't even use their garages as vehicle storage buildings, as zoning codes intend.  I submit to you that an ADU like the one shown in the plan above would address community concerns about parking and neighborhood character better than a converted garage, since in this plan, the garage is maintained, and there's space on site to park about five cars in tandem.  That would require local governments to buy into the spirit, not just the letter, of the new ADU laws.

Cosas fortuitas asombrosas y urbanas

Mira unos de mis fotos abajo y sabe que todavía hay esperanza en el mundo :)

Área de espera en Union Station con "asientos" que son diseñados para reclinarse a pie,  Los Ángeles, California.
Mural de Richard Nixon, Calle Bailey, Whittier, California
Carril de bicletas protegido, Calle Studebaker, entre las Calles Wardlow y Spring, Long Beach, California

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Random Urban Awesomeness

Look at some of my photos below, and know that there is still hope for the world :)

Union Station drop-off area with "seats" that are designed for you to lean on while you stand,  Los Angeles, California.
Richard Nixon Mural, Bailey Street, Whittier, California
Protected Bike Lane, Studebaker Road, between Wardlow Road and Spring Street, Long Beach, California

Películas en unidades de alojamiento auxiliares

¿A tí te importa el alojamiento asequible o la lucha de familias de cuidarse a través de las generaciones?  ¿Ha el movimiento de casitas te inspirado ver las reglas en el alojamiento en una nueva luz?  Si la respuesta es sí, favor de mirar este Video Introducción a Unidades de Alojamiento Auxiliares (UAAs).  Es del sitio de internet Accessorydwellings.org, cuyo propósito es escribir a favor de las UAAs y las políticas que las hacen posible.

¿Interesante verdad?  Aquí hay más videos, todos encontrados en YouTube: