"if men constructed their dwellings with their own hands, and provided food for themselves and families simply and honestly enough, the poetic faculty would be universally developed, as birds sing when they are so engaged."
The construction and habitation of Tiny Houses is a hugely popular trend and growing socio-political movement, seeming to point toward a pressing human need today: a shift towards a more autonomous and simplified lifestyle for individuals and for our species as a whole.
In Walden, Thoreau describes how many of us become enslaved and indebted within social systems that impede our free will. Many schematic hierarchies and bureaucracies of modernity lend themselves to this condition, and common men or women can easily be ushered into subservience to those in positions of political and economic power. But Thoreau’s most revolutionary insight was his vision of how we gravitate towards enslaving ourselves into following this path through our desire to be the very landowners and lawmakers that oppress us. Ultimately becoming “tools of our own tools.”
Of upmost importance to Thoreau in his solitary attempt to break away from this cycle was the construction of his own small cabin on the shore of the Pond.
Thoreau theorized that by empowering ourselves around the imagination, creation and ownership of our own simple home spaces, we circumvent the institutional bonds and obligations of The System such as lengthy mortgages or endless rising rental costs. Free of these grips on our time we are left with the energy and focus to fully experience our lives and pursue our truer paths of choice.
Take one look around at the housing market in most major American metropolises and it is no wonder that, two hundred years later, Thoreau’s insights are still as pertinent as ever and that the Tiny House Movement has caught on strong. We live in a moment of extreme pressure on homeowners as property taxes spike and gentrifying forces grow exponentially. Not to mention a general disillusionment with representative democratic systems on both sides of the aisle. Demand for independence is high and the Tiny House movement is anything but tiny.
But a movement isn’t a movement without political resistance and the exercising of people's voices pushing for change.
Many building and zoning codes have not caught up with the growing demand for Tiny Homes. It is time to spread awareness and push our elected officials to make code variances to allow for this growing necessity.
A Colorado advocacy group called Denver Homeless Out Loud (DHOL) organized a work day action in the fall of 2015 designed to highlight a growing housing crisis, to advocate for homeless rights, and to more sustainably address the needs of un-housed people in Denver. DHOL’s solution: a Tiny House Village. Tiny House Villages are an immensely successful and more economical solution than shelters on the one hand or imprisonment for loitering on the other. Dignity Village in Portland, OR (see here) and Opportunity Village in Eugene, OR (see here), are amazingly effective models of this more humanized approach. Most recently, Seattle, WA followed suit with the construction of a Tiny House Village to address their homeless crisis (see here). Above is a time lapse video created by Laura Goldhamer of the Denver demonstration which was then used in this widely viewed segment about the action (see here).
Thoreau wrote compulsively about the duty of Civil Disobedience. Here again we see how his mandate for lifestyle simplification can mix with his will to revolt in the name of conscience against systemic oppression of a capitol-hungry regime. The Tiny House movement is a perfect contemporary confluence of these Henry's dual impulses.
The issue of the legality within city codes for Tiny Houses may seem at first glance to be a mere technicality; however it is in practice an issue of deep social, political, and ideological debate. Are we making laws to serve, protect, encourage and care for one another, and, in turn, enable us to take good care of ourselves? -OR- Are we upholding codes that continue to suppress the dispossessed and maintain power structures and decadent life-styles of the elite few?