Smaller Homes, Bigger Communities

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Local architect Ross Chapin and developer Jim Soules have been garnering a lot of impressive media attention recently, for taking the lead – and succeeding wildly – in building beautiful, livable, luxury small homes.

The Wall Street Journal discussed their progress in an article earlier this summer:

Ross Chapin and Jim Soules think small in a way that is practically un-American. They build tract houses that are half the size of the average U.S. home and cost a lot more per square foot. What is surprising is how quickly they sell them. The men are building their fortunes with buyers willing to pay more for less. Customers, such as the Moons, say they prefer taking up less room and using less energy.

Last week, John Bentley Hays at The Globe and Mail wrote a follow-up article, asking what Toronto could learn from this growing trend in Seattle. His interview with Toronto architect Janna Levitt revealed some interesting correlations between smaller homes and a more livable city:

"It's a different model, a different recasting. The smaller the house, the more you use the city. When you get into very large houses, there's a kind of privatization of things that used to be activities that got you out into your community, such as a gym or movie theatre or any kind of amenity space. But when you have smaller houses, even in a middle-class neighbourhood, you move out, go out to the community centre, the gym, to the public school. Such houses speak volumes about ideas of civic life now. It talks about that hankering for a sense of community."

If Levitt's observations (which sound absolutely logical to me) are accurate, it seems like an efficiently designed small home is not only pleasurable to live in; it actually creates pleasure in other areas of your life as well. In addition to enjoying the reduction in brain-clouding clutter, maintenance worries and high energy bills that accompanies less square footage, small-home owners spend less time alone in the house. They get out and take advantage of their community, creating fulfilling experiences for themselves and helping create a more vibrant local scene.

Efficient, small homes, of course, aren't limited to the luxury market. But when innovators among us create solutions that encourage those with the means to live extravagantly to enjoy a more sustainable prosperity, everyone wins.

Read more about socially sustainable home design in the Worldchanging archives.

Photo credit: Ross Chapin Architects

Many thanks to our friends at Slow Home for bringing this story to my attention.