Tiny towering over us
On the untapped potential of tiny lots, economic growth engines, and why someone needs to come up with a cheap single-family elevator
For a variety of reasons, from the ecological to the economic, many experts on human development patterns like to see increasing population density. When people can live closely together, they tend to create less pollution (per capita). At the same time, denser populations are also associated with greater economic productivity.
■ But rules often stand in the way of density. In particular, regulations setting minimum lot sizes for single-family houses are widely used and have fairly self-evident consequences for limiting population density. In some locations, though, local conditions force people to look at housing demand differently.
■ A tiny existing lot in Philadelphia was used by an architecture firm to demonstrate a "tiny tower" design -- a home built on a 29' x 12' lot, but with six levels, containing two bedrooms, three bathrooms, an office, a deck, living space, and a kitchen. It's extremely clever. Rethinking minimum lot sizes could offer many cities the ability to use similar designs to fill in empty and under-utilized spaces with attractive, quality housing.
■ Density is really only achievable with the use of height. And while lot sizes form one major obstacle to density, the other obstacle is mobility. There is only a certain window of life during which people don't seem to mind climbing stairs. It starts sometime in later childhood and often ends at middle age. Climbing stairs might be good exercise, but it makes for a terrible livability obstacle to anyone with limited mobility (or even just aging joints).
■ Someone could strike a considerable blow on behalf of density if they could come up with a reliable, safe, and affordable single-family compact elevator system.
■ It's not just that single-family elevators would be good for stoking creative housing solutions meant to fill in under-utilized spaces with new construction. They would also help more people to age gracefully (and comfortably) in the homes they already know and love.
■ For countless reasons, we ought to be reluctant to exile our senior citizens to single-story residential life or to vast retirement complexes isolated from the rest of our communities. But making new or existing housing functional for them takes effort to remove obstacles. If we can make more places more suitable to people across the entire arc of life, then we can also extend the benefits of things like increased density to more people.
■ It's not always easy to see things that are right in front of our eyes, including the need to correct both legal and practical hindrances to better housing practices. But both exist, and it would be prudent to think about getting them out of the way. Attractive, creative solutions to the demand for density already exist and could be put to work doing a lot of good for us all.