Posts Tagged ‘housing’

A Low Impact Woodland Home

A hobbit's houseSimon Dale and his father in-law decided to build their home as inexpensively as possible. So they used natural material and what they could find to build home for Simon’s family of 4. According to Simon:

This building is one part of a low-impact or permaculture approach to life. This sort of life is about living in harmony with both the natural world and ourselves, doing things simply and using appropriate levels of technology. These sort of low cost, natural buildings have a place not only in their own sustainability, but also in their potential to provide affordable housing which allows people access to land and the opportunity to lead more simple, sustainable lives.

I’ve always been a fan of underground homes, and this is the perfect example of how locally sourced materials and ingenuity can make an affordable and livable home. Sadly, in the States, it would almost be impossible to get the necessary building permits and variances to build such a home. It would not meet code standards set in stone here in the Puget Sound. Still, it’s a great idea.


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Ever wonder how really affordable your house or apartment is? So have I and the Housing and Transit Affordability Index will show you the numbers. Based solely on rent cost, my apartment is fairly affordable, at 17% of my income. However, if you add in transportation costs, it more than doubles, to 40% of my income.

H+T Affordability Index: Seattle–Bellevue–Everett, WA: Comparing Housing Costs, % Income for Renters to Housing + Transportation Costs, % Income for Renters

The Housing + Transportation Affordability Index is an innovative tool that measures the true affordability of housing based on its location.
© Copyright 2003-10 Center for Neighborhood Technology
2125 W North Ave, Chicago, IL 60647 · Tel: (773) 278-4800 · Fax: (773) 278-3840

If I compare the annual cost of driving to work versus the annual cost of transit, I find that I’m saving a ton by working from home and taking the bus whenever I can. The difference is amazing: $51 for transit a year, versus $2,048 for a car per year. The cost of transit is spread out across all riders, while the cost of operating your car is solely in your hands and your pocketbook. It costs more to own a car than to take the bus.

H+T Affordability Index: Seattle–Bellevue–Everett, WA: Comparing Annual VMT Cost ($) to Annual Transit Cost ($)

The Housing + Transportation Affordability Index is an innovative tool that measures the true affordability of housing based on its location.
© Copyright 2003-10 Center for Neighborhood Technology
2125 W North Ave, Chicago, IL 60647 · Tel: (773) 278-4800 · Fax: (773) 278-3840

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The Cul-de-Sac Syndrome:
Turning Around the Unsustainable American Dream

John F. Wasik
Bloomberg, 2009

207 pages
ISBN 978-1576603208

John Wasik, a columnist for Bloomberg News and the Huffington Post, has written a book that examines the recent period in our history when homeownership actually made many people poorer. They have been forced to tap their home equity, go into debt to finance their unsustainable lifestyle, and contributed little to retirement investing because of the misguided assumption that home appreciation would fund their future years. Basically the period of time when homes stopped being a place to live and raise family, and became a temporary abode for a migrant family that changed residences every 5 to 7 years.

As John Wasik himself has said on his Cul-De-Sac Syndrome website:

After a lifetime of research and observation, an agonizing decline of the housing market, publication delays and collapse of the stock market, my Cul-de-Sac Syndrome has braved all odds to be published.

Why should you care about this book? It’s about our homes and communities and how we need to re-invent, re-envision and re-build the American Dream if we want to survive in this contentious century. Economics meets ecology in this radical new look at what we’ve taken for granted as a birthright.

The plight of the housing market writ large. The unsustainable “spurbs”, Wasik’s name for car-dependent sprawling urban areas, dot the land. I lived for a time in Colorado Springs and had friends who lived in one these spurbs. They had a twenty minute drive to get to the nearest grocery store, and the neighborhood was more a fenced-in plots of anonymous neighbors, than a community.

The City of Kenmore has a chance to make itself a more livable city, a more walkable city. It also needs to make itself more attractive to more manufacturing and office jobs, since retail and other service oriented businesses just isn’t enough.

Decide for yourself, you can pick up a copy of his book from my Sustainable Living Store.

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The Seattle Bubble just ran an article about the apartment complex I ranted about earlier in “A place to live?“.

The story of Northshore Townhomes is a classic tale of bubble mania. The 6-acre parcel was purchased in 2002 for $1 million by well-known local developer Mike Mastro (via an LLC), but development did not begin in earnest until 2006, in the midst of the real estate frenzy (condo prices were up over 24% year-over-year in November).

Now, Kenmore is nice, but it’s not exactly near the top of most people’s lists when they are thinking about where they want to live around Seattle. Is Kenmore really the best market in which to build 86 new townhomes priced $280,000 to $400,000, with a feature list that includes “the finest finishes throughout” and “chic cabanas with table, bar, and rollout lounges”? And even if Kenmore is a good place for such a development, does it make sense to put it half a block from a major auction house? Obviously not, but during the bubble everything was being snatched up with bidding wars as soon as it came on the market, so in the mind of developers it was probably a no-lose proposition.

Read the full article at Northshore Townhomes: A Case Study in Bubble Mania Development.

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Since 2002, Michelle Kaufmann Designs and mkStudios, have been at the forefront of green and sustainable prefabricated house designs on the West Coast. Founded by it’s namesake, Michelle Kaufmann, it’s guiding principle is to provide a full service design/build architectural firm that uses off-site modular technology and  prepackaged green solutions as the means to create beautiful, eco-friendly homes and multi-family developments.

Both companies strive to show how Michelle’s five EcoPrinciples can be easily and elegantly incorporated into nearly everyone’s daily life. These EcoPrinciples are:

  • Smart design
  • Ecological materials
  • Energy efficiency
  • Water conservation
  • Healthy environment


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In the latest issue of the World Carfree News E-Bulletin, comes word of the New York City based Transportation Alternatives, a group whose mission is to reclaim New York City’s streets from the automobile, and to be an advocate for the concept that bicycling, walking and public transit are the best transportation alternatives. They produced the documentary Contested Streets: Breaking NYC Gridlock, a film that explores the rich diversity of New York City street life before the introduction of automobiles — and then goes on to show how New York can follow the example of other modern cities that have reclaimed their streets as vibrant public spaces. The following trailer gives you a taste of the full documentary that’s available for ordering from Transportation Alternatives.

As we can see, cities for most of their existence were for people and performing their business and day-to-day activities. Then at the turn of the 20th century accommodations for the mass-produced automobile had to be made. Prior to the introduction of the automobile, streets were laid out for pedestrian and horse drawn vehicles, including the first omnibuses.

Before the advent of the mass produced automobile, large cities like New York, London, Paris, and others, created working and viable public and private transit systems. After the introduction of the mass-produced automobile, the allure of the trolley and the train faded. Some accuse General Motors of conspiring to kill off the public transit systems in many cities, but in the end their most effective method of killing off public transit systems was simply to sell America on the myth of freedom through automobile ownership.

So what do we do? Obviously this is something we can’t do overnight. We can’t force people to leave the suburbs and move back into cities or a denser urban region around cities. But we have to do something. It will take some thought and planning to rebuild our shattered communities. It took a century to break them, it well may take a century to fix our communities. We shall see.

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Just in from the BBC: Traffic prevents children from playing. Amazing, innit?

Kids cant play in the streets anymore.

Kids can't play in the streets anymore.

 When I grew up in Michigan, my first home town, Auburn Heights, the bunch of us kids played on the street and in our yards as there was almost no traffic on the street. These days, thanks to the media for making it seem that children are being randomly kidnapped off the streets every second, most parents won’t even let their kids play in the front yard, let alone any where near a street.


According to the BBC article, between 1973 and 2006, the proportion of children playing on UK streets fell from 75% to 15%. Two charities, Sustrans and Play Wales, are calling on planning authorities to lead the UK to build carfree housing estates, which gives a high quality of life for all its residents, particularly for children in traffic-clogged urban areas allowing them to play safely outside their front doors and travel independently. The proposals would also help cut obesity in children who are unable to play in traffic-clogged areas. The plan envisages that car parking in the new developments would be limited and situated away from people’s homes.

Read the full article at the BBC.

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