Tiny houses and urbanism

The tiny homes movement has been hitting the world by storm. With the promises of portable, compact living and some beautiful amenities, I definitely see the potential benefits. The wonderful architectural opportunities are compounded with a true need for housing, due to a lack in supply of good quality, affordable, housing. Community leaders and non-profits across the country are seeing tiny houses as a potential solution to chronic homelessness, and younger generations are seeing them as a creative solution to avoid the need to pool money with a bunch of strangers for an apartment.

There is a serious problem with the underlying theory that has caused the tiny house movement to grow in popularity so quickly. The problem is that there are two central limitations of tiny houses: vertical scalability and portability.

Urban theorists, like Edward Glaeser, have long argued the need to re-urbanize the cities and build taller structures. Studies have shown that urban living results in much smaller per capita Greenhouse Gas emissions and potentially better social cohesion. Tiny houses are now being built into tiny house communities, but there is nothing stopping a person from connecting their tiny house to their vehicle and moving it across country. This results in many of the same concerns seen in the last few decades that have been associated with suburban living. 

The basic concept of a compact urban form is wonderful, and I am in full support of this type of movement, but I am concerned that tiny houses may end up increasing sprawl and all of its negative outcomes on all aspects of health (physical, mental, social, and environmental).

There are many other options that can achieve the same outcomes (affordable, compact living in the urban space) without the negative outcomes described above. Modular construction techniques have dramatically improved in recent years, and the re-evaluation of individual space needs (which resulted from the tiny house movement) have real possibility to reshape the urban form. The concept of co-housing can also address the social capital and innovation needs of the city and can result in even greater innovative growth for those areas harnessing these concepts. 

Don't get me wrong, tiny houses definitely have their place, but I don't feel that they go far enough to address the housing needs of society and the social-emotional-environmental factors that need to be considered when attempting to find a solution to chronic homelessness and affordable housing.