Just how big is the tiny house “movement”?

While I’ve seen plenty of articles about tiny houses, it is hard to know just how big the “movement” is. Here is a story about tiny houses that discusses one couple but also suggests the homes are now part of the curriculum of one college:

Their origin is often attributed to Sarah Susanska’s 1998 book The Not So Big House. In it, she argues that new houses typical of the McMansion era—upward of 2,300-­square-feet—were too big and a waste of resources…

The Tiny House movement is part of the sustainable technologies curriculum at Central Carolina Community College in Pittsboro, which offers two-year associate degrees in the discipline.

“We do believe that part of sustainability is having a smaller carbon footprint and that means for us using fewer materials, using locally sourced materials and being extremely energy efficient in what we build,” says Laura Lauffer, the coordinator of the sustainable technologies program. “The Tiny House movement fits all of that criteria.”

The curriculum includes two classes in which students collaborate to build a tiny house. This year they will enter their final product in the competition. The Abundance Foundation in Pittsboro and Habitat for Humanity are sponsoring a tiny house contest in which novice builders will compete for best design. Each house must be less than 500 square feet, energy efficient and aesthetically pleasing.

Limited evidence for claiming this is a movement. One couple does not a movement make and the stories about tiny houses tend to focus on small groups of people who are interested in these homes. Additionally, it is interesting that this would make its way into college classes but then again college classes address all sorts of social phenomena, some with longer staying power than others.  However, there are hints of broader interest such as several cities looking into micro-apartments and trying to help the homeless in several places with tiny houses. But, how many of these tiny houses have been built? Will we eventually get Census data that will be definitive? In the meantime, journalists and others should be wary of calling this a broad movement.

I would also be interested to hear more about the links to Sarah Susanka’s Not-So-Big-House. Susanka was not calling for super small houses; rather, ones that weren’t as big as McMansions. The homes she features in her books still tend to be around the national average and they are not necessarily cheaper with all of their customized features. The principle of having a smaller house may fit with Susanka’s ideas but she wasn’t strongly calling for houses less than 200 square feet.

Comparing where Occupy Wall Streets protests are versus where the super wealthy live

In looking at which metropolitan areas have bigger shares of the top 1% of income earners in the United States, Howard Wial hints at an interesting relationship: are the Occupy Wall Street protests taking place in the same places as where the wealthiest live?

These very high-income households are disproportionately metropolitan. While about 85 percent of all income tax filers have metropolitan addresses, about 93 percent of the very rich live in metropolitan areas. The top 3 percent are highly concentrated in a relatively small number of large metropolitan areas.

Only twenty metropolitan areas — New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Washington, San Francisco, Boston, Houston, Philadelphia, Dallas, Miami, Atlanta, San Jose, Seattle, Minneapolis, San Diego, Detroit, Phoenix, Baltimore, Bridgeport (Fairfield County, Connecticut, is the center of the hedge fund industry and home to many corporate headquarters), and Denver — have at least 1 percent of all the nation’s very high-income households. Collectively those areas account for 56 percent of the highest-income households but for only 37 percent of all households…

There are Occupy movements in nearly all the metropolitan areas where the top 3 percent are concentrated. All of the 20 metropolitan areas with the most top-income households have groups listed in the directory on the Occupy Together Web site. So do all but six of the 54 metropolitan areas where the very rich are disproportionately located.  (The missing six are Bridgeport, Connecticut; Naples, Florida; Sebastian, Florida; Lafayette, Louisiana; Midland, Texas; and Tyler, Texas.)

Yet movements in support of Occupy Wall Street also exist in many places other than those where the very rich are concentrated, including such seemingly unlikely locales as Anderson, Indiana, and Texarkana, Texas.  Geographically, their reach is greater than that of the very rich.

This would be interesting to follow up on: how much of the protest activity is being driven by places where the richest and everyone else live relatively near each other? And for those protesting outside of these wealthier areas, is the process of setting up a protest much different in order to face a more anonymous opponent?

“Sustainability thinker” suggests sprawling suburbs can’t really be green

A common target of those concerned with being green and sustainability are American suburbs. While some might suggest that suburbs can become more green (read here and  here), Alex Steffen, a sustainability thinker, suggests it really isn’t possible:

What’s a sustainability trend that you wish would go away?

Shallow redesigns of suburban life. You see a lot of proposals these days that seem to suggest that all that open space is perfect for farming, or that we can power our McMansions and cars with solar panels, so even the suburbs can “go green.” The brutal reality is that newer, more sprawling suburbs—and especially the cheap boom-years exburbs—aren’t just a bit unsustainable, they’re ruinously unsustainable in almost every way, and nothing we know of will likely stop their decline, much less fix them easily.

Unfortunately, it isn’t really clear what Steffen means by this. What constitutes a “shallow redesign” versus something more substantive? Would Steffen agree with New Urbanists that suburbs can be redesigned in ways to promote green behavior? This statement is also interesting: “nothing we know of will likely stop their decline.” They may be in decline now due to financial concerns (the budgets of local communities, the ability of homeowners to purchase large new homes) but does that mean that they will be on the decline forever? Could we have the same type of sprawl with just more green single-family homes (like LEED Platinum homes)? What sort of suburbs, if any, would he be in favor of?

As I read Steffen’s comments, I thought about the trade-offs those interested in being green and sustainability might have to make regarding American suburbs. Given the popularity of suburbs in American life, both as an ideology and an actual destination of a majority of Americans, can this movement really claim that suburbs as a whole are bad? Instead, most arguments seem to be incremental: suburbs can be modified in ways, such as having LEED homes or more mass-transit or more fuel efficient cars, that retain some of their key attributes without turning it into city life. But even with these sorts of incremental arguments, I wonder how many of the commentators really wish that suburbs would just disappear but can’t admit such things because the American public would react negatively.

More info on how Internet helped movement in Tunisia

There have been a number of news stories that have suggested that the Internet played a role in the recent political movement in Tunisia that ousted the government. In an interview with Wired, the director of the Tunisian Internet Agency (ATI) gives more information about what happened:

During its 15-year existence, the ATI had a reputation for censoring the internet and hacking into people’s personal e-mail accounts. All Tunisian ISPs and e-mail flowed through its offices before being released on the internet, and anything that the Ben Ali dictatorship didn’t like didn’t see the light of day…

The revolution began Dec. 17 in the central Tunisian town of Sidi Bouzid, when 26-year-old fruit vendor Mohammed Bouazizi set himself on fire to protest the humiliating tactics of local officials. The suicide jolted Tunisians. They began to protest in the streets — and clash with police.

Around 100 people died throughout the country. The media, controlled by Ben Ali’s advisers, reported only that criminals were looting.

But videos of the protests, riot police and their victims appeared on Facebook, and bloggers began reporting the daily events with first-hand accounts, photographs and videos. This information helped drive the uprising, and the government responded by allegedly hijacking Tunisian Facebook passwords.

At the same time, hackers began to attack the Tunisian government’s control over the internet. They bombed the ATI’s DNS and website, and tried to bomb the e-mail centipede gateway. The National Computer Security Agency — which fights hacking, phishing, viruses and fraud — took on the activists who tried to overload government websites with distributed denial-of-service attacks.

“When the hackers did DDOS they did a good job, and Anonymous did a good job,” Saadaoui says, smiling. “But not on everything. They weren’t able to take down the DNS, they weren’t able to take down the main servers or the network, but they were able to DDOS websites. They were able to bomb Ben Ali’s website.”

And there is some interesting talk about the future of the Internet in Tunisia: completely open or will the government still have some control in order to block sites that go against conservative Islamic teachings?

So it sounds like the Internet was used in two ways by those in the revolutionary movement:

1. The spreading of information through sites like Facebook. This would help keep people coordinated as well as alert the outside world to what was happening.

2. A number of hackers took the opportunity to attack the government’s Internet infrastructure. They had some success though they couldn’t bring the whole system down.

Is this the way future social movements will happen: through quick information spreading (Facebook, Twitter, whatever comes next) plus hackers trying to disrupt government activity? It would be interesting to know more about these hackers: have they attacked the government before, were they just waiting for an opportunity like this, were they coordinating their actions with those of protesters on the street?