As the suburbs sprawled across the countryside over the past 50 or so years, houses got bigger and bigger. As our consumer appetites grew to unprecedented proportion, we gobbled up farmland and natural resources like never before. In a relatively short time in history, we populated the countryside, fueled by the fires of our lust for more. We marched forward with the attitude of “too much is never enough”.
There was a brief recognition of the direction we were headed in the 70’s. Our concern for environmental protection and energy efficiency was stimulated by the economic conditions and the back to the land movement. We started to explore renewable energy and built more efficient homes. But something happened in the 80’s – the economy indicated a false stabilization as employment increased, oil prices fell, and interest rates lowered. With only a minority holding on to their prophetic voice, the majority seemed to stick their heads in the sand while fanning the flames of consumption. “Bigger and better” became the cry of the masses.
Well, it seems the tide has turned. Those who held on to their convictions continued to move forward with passion and innovation. “Green” became a buzzword gaining momentum in the early years of this century. Finally, the economic collapse, along with the concern of peak oil and other environmental concerns, began to get everyone’s attention. Today, sustainability is, or should be, on all of our lists of concern. We are rethinking our direction – downsizing and efficiency is taking root.
Building smaller houses and more conscientious development is on the forefront of this movement. Creative designers, inspired by innovative pioneers like Sarah Susanka, with her Not So Big House series, are creating healthy, efficient, and aesthetic homes in pleasant community oriented neighborhoods. Low impact, zero energy, and high performance are values that are replacing bigger and better. “More with less” is becoming the new cry of those truly in touch with our dilemma.
People across the country are joining the small house movement. Even the planning and zoning departments of progressive cities are collaborating for smarter growth. The adoption of creative infill ordinances is growing throughout the country. Many cities have followed Seattle’s lead to allow greater density of small houses on combined infill lots. Other cites are promoting the addition of small “mother-in-law cottages” on developed lots.
Asheville, NC, where I live, is a great location for this movement to grow – and one of the reasons I moved here. Along with the provision for an auxiliary studio cottage or apartment in most locations, there is a great ordinance recently introduced for cottage development as well as other considerations for smaller houses and greater density.
By all indications, the tide will continue to turn and environmental, social, and economic sustainability will influence our building and development practices. As more and more people wake up to the reality of these concerns, that influence will become a driving force. I am excited to continue to be part of the movement.