It’s been an interesting experience so far from building a tiny house to seeing the foundations of modern architecture to understanding how developers evaluate risks.
At this point, I still think tiny houses are cool. Is anyone going to be able to make a living from building them? Not likely. Tumbleweed makes their money from selling books and plans. It’s mostly folks building their own.
I’ve seen the idea for starting a tiny house community float around a few times. I have to ask why people would want that. You’d have to probably go outside of city limits because few zoning ordinances would allow for it.
Alternately you could build it on something zoned as a trailer park. But then you’d have to wait for others who had built tiny houses to show up and rent a space. If you’re retiring and don’t mind having your money tied up in the “if you build it, they will come” model, I guess that’s fine.
Folks who would be willing to rent in a trailer park and live in 100 sq feet might not make that stable a community. It seems that tiny houses make great places for individuals – or couples who eat out a lot. If you want a community with families, kids, pets, etc. a tiny house trailer park isn’t going to do that.
And a trailer park is still a place set up for trailers. It’s not especially walkable given the set up or the probable location. If you’re looking primarily for affordability then yes, a trailer park could do that. But that’s not a solution tiny house affectionados are necessarily looking for.
Pocket neighborhoods meet the same general intent for community. If you look at the image I linked from the pocket neighborhoods website above, you see that everyone still has their own house (some can be tiny if desired), it has great walkability and maximizes the opportunity for community.
I’m currently living in Arlington, TX. I looked up cohousing because my wife and I are planning to move somewhere near Richardson, TX so I can do a PhD in game development at UT Dallas (another story). I looked up Dallas Cohousing and there is a site: dallascohousing.org.
There is one development and a meetup group for it too. But for the most part, it’s a fairly non-existant concept.
After reading over some of these cohousing sites I wanted to add a few comments about starting a pocket neighborhood or cohousing.
Cohousing.org lists 6 principles of cohousing:
- Participatory process – future residents help design it
- Neighborhood design – designed like a pocket neighborhood
- Common facilities – usually a house that has community dining, classrooms, exercise, tool storage, etc.
- Resident management – similar to a condo board or neighborhood association
- Non-hierarchical structure and decision-making – they prefer consensus to voting
- No shared community economy – none of the residents are supposed to make money from providing a service to the community
To accomplish this, you’d basically have to get 10-20 households together who would agree to start a non-profit and purchase and develop all of this without financing. And that’s if you can find a location inside city limits which I think would be preferable. Otherwise you’re starting some kind of rural commune.
That seems fairly far fetched and idealistic. Promoting pocket neighborhoods that way will pretty much insure that they remain a nice post-apocalyptic idea.
The book Pocket Neighborhoods (and companion website) also promotes a few low commitment ideas too. Residents of regular neighborhoods can agree to take down their privacy fences and devote some portion of their backyards to a community walkway and possibly some other community feature such as a gazebo, playground, bbq, etc.
In Richardson, TX where we’re looking to move, most streets have alleys in the back. The idea was to move the cars and the trash off the main streets and into the back. While it did succeed in moving the trash to the back, there are still cars on the main streets. And the alleys seem like fairly inhospitable places to be because they’re all surrounded by backyard privacy fences. The book talks about taking back the alleys by taking down the fences and using most of it for community spaces.
If you were going to start a pocket neighborhood from scratch though, here’s some things to consider:
- Most people aren’t going to have meaningful contributions to make toward design. Waiting until you have a large enough group that can come to a consensus on such things pretty much insures it will never happen. Just follow the guidelines set out for pocket neighborhoods and take into account the location you’re in. You’re much more likely to find people willing to buy in after things are built.
- Buy a house with some land. There are plenty of places inside city limits with an acre or two. Check with your zoning (Plano doesn’t allow more than one additional house per acre) and subdivide the larger parcel into your individual neighborhood parcels.
- With as many houses as we currently have on the market (with more likely on the way), it might be possible to buy a few houses next to each other and start taking down fences. They say you just need three to start a trend and gain momentum.
- I read somewhere that currently 95% of residential mortgages are government insured. Banks just aren’t interested in lending without that coverage. FHA and others don’t lend on coops. Your structure will need to either be condos or include a non-profit neighborhood association that owns or leases a community building. Or one of the residents can donate a portion of their land to building a community building.
- People are going to have to take a step back from the cohousing model of everyone being in everyone’s business. Most literature advocates the management board doing a full financial and criminal background check similar to what you’d expect to go through for a security clearance. Hopefully most of this will be done by a third (non-resident) party. The point is that residents have to be screened to buy and then they have as much challenge when they want to sell. If we want more pocket neighborhood opportunities, we have to lower the bar. As it is, it seems like you’re getting married and having to meet the family’s approval first.
- Along the same lines, some cohousing groups more or less expect residents to attend a certain number of community meals each week or month. Personally, we love having people over for dinner. The only thing with community meals is that you have a limited input into what is served. I happen to mostly eat raw, organic, free range food. I don’t eat sugar or grains except on rare occasion (eating out). Most of the time I’ve been to larger community meals, people go for the easy to mass produce dishes – lasagna, pasta, other processed foods, etc. While I like eating with people, I don’t see it being feasible to regularly accommodate a variety of nutritional requirements and preferences. I could see potlucks working better because if you don’t like what someone else brought, you can eat more of your own.
The bottom line is that cohousing needs to lower the bar on what they consider legitimate cohousing. Pocket neighborhoods would work okay without a community building too. Going without that feature would solve a lot of problems right off the bat. Either use a gazebo on someone’s lot or eat at someone’s house. Or make it a picnic until there’s enough support to build a structure.
Even if what I’m suggesting might seem a little watered down, it’s more feasible and therefore more likely to come into being. If we say these kinds of communities are better for most people who currently live in a typical suburb, then we need to make it as accessible as possible.
Please feel free to comment as this is a community topic and I’m only meaning to contribute to the conversation.