A Tiny House In the Back Yard

 

Here’s a great staccessory dwelling unitory illustrating how different housing arrangements, such as a tiny house in the back yard, can meet a variety of needs and wants. For aging parents; young adults juggling college, traveling, and volunteering; or friends who need little space, it’s a great way to stay connected to friends and family, while ensuring that everyone has some space.

Adding a tiny home is a sort of infill development, and helps to enliven older neighborhoods. Large suburban lots, of course, will have plenty of room for tiny homes, which can help to enhance the feel of community.

One of the main issues is prohibitive regulations, as adding another housing unit of any size is often prohibited. And many people are concerned about their property values and seeing junky shacks constructed as rental units. Valid concerns, but no reason to prohibit tiny homes outright. You’ll see the term “accessory dwelling unit” applied to buildings like tiny homes, and it’s an acknowledgement that building codes and zoning regulations can adapt.

Lloyd Kahn’s latest book, Tiny Homes, offers hundreds of creative examples of small dwellings, from cheap and funky to surprisingly expensive. Deek over at Relax Shacks will show you inventive ideas as well. And Kent Griswold of The Tiny House Blog covers the topic extensively.

 

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Learning Center Built from Straw Bales and Whole Trees

Whole Trees Architecture and Structures.

Learning Center at Angelic Organics designed and built by Roald Gundersen and Whole Trees Architecture and Structures.

Whole Trees Architecture and Structures creates some beautiful, earthy buildings. They use unmilled, whole trees that grow quickly and are a renewable resource.

 

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Green Cities Make People Happier and Healthier

Live Science reports on a study that people feel enhanced well-being in cities with more green space.  It’s clear that green cities are not just more pleasant; they’re good for us! Green cities make people happier and healthier.

parks make people happier and healthier

Here’s another example. And another from a post I wrote in 2012.

So what do we do to create green cities? Lots of things, but one of the most crucial is improving the urban forest.

 

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What Are the Best Cities for Treehuggers?

What are the best cities for treehuggers?

American Forests’ 10 Best list is based on 6 main criteria.

Despite the emerald ash borer, some cities’ urban forests are healthy and well managed. What are the best cities for treehuggers?

According to American Forests, they are:

  • Seattle
  • Portland, Oregon
  • Sacramento
  • Denver
  • Austin, Texas
  • Minneapolis
  • Milwaukee
  • Charlotte, North Carolina
  • New York City
  • Washington, D.C.

And then there’s this nonsense. Those power lines should be buried, or at least relocated to the alleys.

What are the best cities for treehuggers?

Thanks, Xcel Energy!

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How Do We Improve the Urban Forest?

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Jacaranda trees in Buenos Aires.

Green cities need a healthy urban forest, made up of street trees, park trees, and trees on private property. Trees clean the air, pump out oxygen, sequester carbon, lower air temperature, and provide shade. We can’t really have green city without healthy trees. More info here and here.

Most cities’ street trees have a tough life. They’re squeezed into a small boulevard space, and many are mutilated for power line clearance. Park and yard trees usually have a better fate, but the emerald ash borer will be fatal to any untreated ash trees it can find.

dying ash

A dying ash tree.

How do we improve the urban forest? The city of Madison, Wisconsin, has about 10% ash trees in its urban forest. It also has the Urban Tree Alliance, a unique organization with a compelling mission. From their web site:

“The Urban Tree Alliance is a non-profit organization serving the greater Madison, WI area. We grew out of a desire to elevate the level of care given to our urban forests as a whole. It is our goal to advocate for the urban forest; define and explain the benefits it provides; educate and demonstrate how to assure it’s health and growth; and act in service to property owners, community groups, municipalities, and anyone else who has a stake in the management of this communal resource.”

“To the best of our knowledge we are the only non-profit organization of our kind in existence.”

Urban Tree Alliance

Urban Tree Alliance

This group offers many of the services of other tree companies, but also offers subsidized tree care to people who make less than 80% of the county median income. Great idea! The UTA is also working on finding ways to use urban wood, such as for lumber and furniture. The abundance of ash trees that will be cut in the next decade will ensure a robust supply, and it’s a shame when useable trees end up chipped just to get rid of them.

The city of La Crosse has begun the process of removing the ash trees in parks and on the boulevards. It’s surprising to see so many stumps where there should be shade. It’s crucial that we learn, this time, not to overplant one species!

Pettibone Park is a lot less shady after more than 400 ash trees were cut.

Pettibone Park is a lot less shady after more than 400 ash trees were cut.

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Author Doug Fine at Isthmus Green Day

Doug Fine spoke at the Isthmus Green Day.

Doug Fine spoke at the Isthmus Green Day.

The Isthmus Green Day featured Doug Fine, author of Farewell, My Subaru, speaking about his homesteading adventures, as well as cannabis legalization. He’s an entertaining speaker who also makes some important points about the folly of the War On Drugs.

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Is Permaculture Mainstream Yet?

Is permaculture mainstream yet? I don’t know, but I keep seeing more great stories of permaculture, like these located in Southwest Wisconsin.

Kinstone Academy of Applied Permaculture

Kinstone Academy of Applied Permaculture

Kinstone Academy is located near Fountain City, Wisconsin.

Primrose Valley Farm

New Forest Farm

Grist article about New Forest Farm.

Madison Area Permaculture Guild

Capital Times article

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Energy Efficient Homes Can Be Beautiful, Affordable, and Durable

Here’s an article about Blue Ridge Energy Systems of Fletcher, North Carolina. Nice looking projects, with a history of energy efficiency and fine craftsmanship. In fact, they claim that heating and cooling for their typical homes will total less than $200 per year, and they can build it at roughly the same cost as a convention home.

The homes are Energy Star certified, but not Passive House certified. A $200 annual heating and cooling bill sounds a lot cheaper than meeting rigorous Passive House standards.

energy efficient home,

A project built by Blue Ridge Energy Systems of Fletcher, North Carolina.

Their building method is a pretty basic approach for this sort of house: comprehensive air sealing, lots of insulation, a heat recovery ventilator, triple-pane windows, heat pumps, and solar electric.

What’s more, today’s approach is an evolution of the methods the company’s founder, Robin Woodward, has used since the 1970s. Just a reminder that practices can evolve but principles remain constant. It’s good to know that energy efficient homes can be beautiful, affordable, and durable.

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Learning From Strong Towns

The Strong Towns blog

The Strong Towns blog

The Strong Towns blog has been interesting reading today. It’s a great way to learn some things about highways, streets, stroads, urban and suburban development, community development, and more. There’s loads of info about why the infrastructure we have now is failing, crumbling, ugly, miserable, and so on.

The post above reminds me of Steward Brand’s book, “How Buildings Learn,” in which he talks about cheap, ugly, adaptable buildings. Brand calls these “low-road” spaces, and they’re great for business startups, musicians, artists, and anyone who wants to hack away at a building, improving its functionality, without worrying about how it looks. Oftentimes they end up looking sort of purposeful, if not graceful.

The Strong Towns blog

The Strong Towns blog

The strong Towns blog is where I first read about the Northeast Investment Cooperative in Minneapolis. An investment cooperative sounds like a strange animal, but what a great idea! A group of citizens pool their money and buy, rehab, and manage both residential and commercial property in their neighborhood. I’m curious about how they manage the group, how they work with the local government, and those sorts of logistical issues. I’ll have to check it out further.

From the NEIC web site.

From the NEIC web site.

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