Eco-density projects such as laneway housing in Vancouver is a common solution proposed by sustainability advocates, and it makes a lot of sense. Denser communities mean less travel time, an increase in affordability for homeowners and renters alike, and more efficient use of space and energy. The rising cost of housing in multiple cities around North America has people looking for better ideas. As population grows and shifts closer together, the American ideal space gets smaller, and tinier apartments and houses are more attractive.
The popularity of businesses such as the Tumbleweed Tiny House Company show that space efficiency is becoming a way for Americans to increase their quality of life without incurring the daunting amount of debt that comes with mortgage of the average sized home—about 2,500 square feet. While housing regulations in many areas make it tricky to live in a small space, the laneway housing practice in Vancouver, B.C. shows that with the right policy, affordable housing solutions can be very successful.
Another great effort to improve sustainable housing is the Grow Community on Bainbridge Island, Washington. Grow makes efforts to provide a mixed housing community that will encourage all types of families to live close together and interact closely. The community design includes a high walkability score, highly efficient buildings that use renewable and low energy mechanisms, and features that encourage social interaction and happiness. Neighborhoods in the Grow Community have p-patches, community centers and even a foundation for residents to participate in investing towards sustainable efforts like clean energy projects and developments.
Serious city planners should look to Vancouver or Bainbridge if they want progressive solutions that will not only support energy efficiency and the environment, but give citizens more discretionary income to contribute to local economies. More people comfortable with less space will mean stronger communities, less traffic and overall a more equal society. For a compelling argument for the benefits of an equal society, watch this Ted Talk from Richard Wilkinson. More equal societies have less crime, less disease and more opportunity for its citizens, and it starts with fair and affordable housing.