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CNU 22 Preview: What I Hope to See

TBU at CNU 22-What I Hope To See

Yesterday I told you what you should see at CNU 22. This is what I personally hope to see.

Vigorous NextGen Debate

I’ve just volunteered myself to either do a traditional PK like I did at 2012′s CNU or a debate, on a topic somewhat of my choosing, at our Friday night NextGen gathering. I have fond memories of my very first 2011 presentation and I hope to not only present, but learn from my colleagues as we discuss the issues of the day.

Restaurants that Stick With Me

Madison had Graze and it’s organic cheese curds, West Palm Beach had Greaseburger and its solid gourmet burgers. What restaurant will I eat the most of my meals at just because it’s got a great feel to it? Buffalo is quite famous for its wings, which I love. Who will lure me in because they have the very best set?

The Robert Stern Lecture

Considering how much I’ve read up on Celebration, FL, this was the big selling point for me coming to CNU this year. I’m also interested to see how a conversation on garden cities goes over in a room, where quite a few folks feel like they contribute to sprawl, versus add urbanism to sprawling areas.

The Next American Urbanism

I really hate that I wasn’t in Louisville to help get this effort cranked up. However, I have contributed a chapter to the manifesto that will be presented in part throughout the Congress.

How Black Culture and History Has Shaped Buffalo

Although the site’s title is just stating the obvious (I am black and an urbanist) am looking forward to eating soul food in a northern situation to see if it still stands up to how we eat down south. Maybe that restaurant will be my go-to spot. This link also features several other black history sites that I hope to check out on one of my self-guided tours.

Maybe Niagara Falls….

Maybe.

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CNU 22 Preview: What Not To Miss

TBU at CNU 22-What Not to Miss

As I’m sitting to write this, we are one week away from the activities of the Congress of New Urbanism 22 in Buffalo, NY. Activities begin with tours, and an opening night networking event and end up with one more closing networking event. As you can tell, a lot of this conference is networking and learning the place that has been chosen for the Congress. If you are expecting a conference, there’s plenty of that for you here too, especially if you really need to get professional credits. In the meantime check out my list of things you can’t miss:

Next Gen’s Full Slate of Activities

NextGen is the set of events and the fellowship that brought me into the fold of CNU in 2011 and through it I’ve gained so much knowledge and so many good friends. And for the record, NextGen is not just about age, but it’s all about ideas and spirit. If you are in the area or can get a ticket or get on the road, please come out and join us at any of these events. ALL OF THEM ARE FREE. You’ll even get to hear Andres Duany, the father of CNU, speak at one of the Thursday night events. In addition, I may either debate or present at Friday night’s Pecha Kucha/Debate night at the Lafayette Hotel.

Click here for a printable version of the schedule. These events are also on the main CNU 22 app.

A Tour

As I mentioned in the previous post, I plan on spending the times I’m not covering the presentations at the convention hall walking around Buffalo, recording stories and figuring out what makes it tick as a city. Isn’t that what this movement is about, making and enjoying the city?  If you’d like some assistance with your guided tour, there are several that will depart from the convention hall starting on Monday and going through Sunday. I may actually slip onto the Buffalo Briskly tour myself.

The Random Argument in the Hallway or After the Session

At the 2012 Congress I noticed that some of the “rockstars” of the movement/congress were not at the main sessions, but instead piled up around one of the exhibit booths having a very vigorous conversation. It looked intense and I walked away, even though I would have loved to jump in. Don’t do that. As Chuck Marohn (rockstar in his own right) has mentioned in his CNU Rules, don’t walk away from something that’s probably far more open and a bit more awesome than it appears on the outside. Plus, we are all people. Nerdy people, with a love of good places.

Open Source Congress

If you have a little less courage, but still a lot of spunk, the Open Source Congress is ready and waiting for you to announce your topic and have a group of eager people to talk about it. The best way to get people to come to your talk is to do it on the day of the open source kickoff. Don’t be the lone sucker (me) that puts together a sign and then has no one to talk about it with you on Saturday afternoon. Plus, I won’t be there this year on Saturday afternoon myself.

Art Room

Sharpen your skills by popping by one of these classes. I attended the photography one in 2012 and I wish I could do it again. I only remember how to avoid keystoning a building and that’s not nearly enough for good architectural photography.

The Plenaries and the Charter Awards

Because excellence is excellence. See who’s knocking it out of the park with their urban designs on Thursday at 5p.m. and throughout the conference get to know who the organizers have deemed so worthy to address the entire Congress.  After pouring through two books on Celebration,FL, I’m looking forward to hearing from Robert Stern at the Friday morning plenary.

The entire schedule, including all tours, 202 courses, and breakout sessions can be found here. Be sure to register with the site and you can create your own calendar of events, which you can then download onto your phone as both an Android and iPhone app.

Finally, don’t miss me! Follow me on Twitter to find out where I’m going throughout the Congress week.

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Why I Love Conferences

At the panel on cultural urbanism I organized for CNU 19's Next Gen Day.

At the panel on cultural urbanism I organized for 2011′s CNU 19  Next Gen Day.

It is that time of year again when many of us who blog and write and speak gather amongst ourselves at various industry conferences. I’m not quite ready to confirm which ones I’m going to this year yet. I will see many of you in next week at CNU 22 in Buffalo next week and in July at the APA Virginia conference. Early this spring I enjoyed the gathering of like minds right here in Greensboro that was the Piedmont Together Framework for Prosperity Summit. Tomorrow evening, May 27, 2014, I’m looking forward to welcoming author Ben Ross to Greensboro’s Scuppernong Books to enjoy a conversation around his book on the effects of sprawl.

I think it’s one thing to write in isolation, with the occasional Facebook share, comment or email to a colleague that happens with an online or even printed article. Yet, for me, as an extroverted writer and speaker, the joy that comes from gathering with my fellow urbanists or marketers, or professional black women or young women with side gigs or just chillin’ with my best friends and family is healing. It’s why so many of us when we can or on a regular basis attend worship services or fellowship meetings or yoga classes. You grow and you change and you heal from being around like minds.

An additional piece I like about conferences and convening is that when done the right way, these events change lives outside the conference hall. One example in the placemaking movement is the Tactical Urbanism push, which started as a Congress for the New Urbanism (CNU) NextGen conversation and has now been adopted by mayors and used by people who long knew the power of a good block party or community project to ignite good neighborhoods. I’ll never forget the time I participated in this effort to create a promenade on a local street: (I’m in the pink hoodie).

Image

I want to add that conferences that don’t have a good mix of keynotes, breakouts, formal and informal networking sessions fail. Some of the best connections and most valuable business deals happen in the exhibit hall. Another failure comes when your content isn’t compelling. I know occasionally, one has to explain the mechanics of a situation, especially in a continuing education class. Yet, we remember most the vibrant teachers, the ones who have found the human touch in the most boring of subjects.

I’m going to leave you with a set of videos that were produced on why people go to the CNU every year. I look forward to seeing you this season on the conference circuit. I’ll announce the gatherings I’ve confirmed this year via social networks, this blog and my daily news email North Carolina Placebook.  And look for an announcement tomorrow about my schedule for CNU 22.

If you want me to come and speak at your gathering, please contact me. Unless it’s local, I do ask that you work with me to offset travel costs and time spent preparing my remarks, but I can work with the smallest budget, to maximize both mine and your learning time.

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The Death and Life of Malls, a Video Friday Reflection.

So we’ve spent all week talking about the nature of retail. Yet, today’s videos represent how much retail is a cycle, where America has led the way in sprawl, yet is now realizing why it’s not such a good idea. The first video is a montage of America’s dead malls, with voiceover that directly addresses how they are now being exported overseas and overbuilt just like in the US.  That video and voiceover, by Scottish writer Ewan Morrison, is part of a greater collection, Tales from the Mall, which was released in 2012 (paperback coming this September) and highlights all that goes into running a shopping mall through fiction, nonfiction, journalistic reports, photo collages, and in the e-book version, links to videos, such as the one seen here. The second video is an advertisement for one of these new international malls, that seems to just be a dubbed over advertisement for an American mall.

And with that, we close our chapter on retail for now. I’ll see you on Tuesday as we get ready for Buffalo and CNU 22.

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The Black Urbanist Radio Show Episode 001: On Retail

Welcome again to another podcast episode! This week focuses on the changing nature of retail.

If you are just joining us on the podcast and haven’t been able to read all the posts I reference  here they are below:

The Walkability Paradox (the post about North Hills).

Smaller Retail for a Smaller Buying and Consuming Era.

Does it Matter Who Owns the Corner Store?

Mails and Main Streets–Two Sides of the Same Coin

The Department Store of the Amazon and New Urbanist Era

Putting Place and Experience Back Into Retail

I also mentioned Groceteria- http://www.groceteria.com for context on retail history in Greensboro and across the Southeast.

The History of Belk book, which is older, but also helpful as a reference for those companies. I also mentioned the Target wiki page.

We are on iTunes and Stitcher, and SoundCloud by hitting the play button above. If you want to be on the podcast, let me know via Twitter. I’m there @blackurbanist.

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Putting Place and Experience Back Into Retail

Templestowe Farmers Market via Wikimedia Commons

Templestowe Farmers Market via Wikimedia Commons

Placemaking is not just creating experiences, but pushing for necessary services and goods to be purchased as close as possible to home. What kind of places then, do we all want to shop at, at least those of us who are concerned with the effects of sprawl, fair labor, humanely raised food and fibers and a sense of classic customer service. Scratch want, what kind of places do we need to shop at, to fulfill our values and soothe our senses? After all, so much of consumption in the modern era is geared towards soothing our feelings and wants, more so than what we actually need. If we were really truly concerned about consumption, we’d all be homesteading. Yet, that’s not to say that those of us who choose to live a little more urban than rural are not responsible, nor valid in our thoughts of  more responsible retail. How do we balance the sense of place, the sense of responsibility and the sense of consumption?

Street Markets/Farmers Markets/Commerce Vehicles

Taking things back to the classic form of the marketplace, where people open up their cars, put out tables, hold out signs and pitch tents to pitch their wares, often in the open air. The start-up costs for the sellers are low, plus, they enjoy the flexibility of driving around from neighborhood to neighborhood and town to town, finding the places where people purchase from them the most. In addition,  a community often forms around these markets. There’s the scarcity of knowing that you can only find that particular table or truck at that particular place for a limited amount of time, much like all those TV advertisements with the 1-800 number. Yet, you also get to know the people behind the product, the ones with the family recipes and the desire to help others and themselves build a better community one booth at a time. Also, this is where some of the restrictive regulations on signage and placement help. If a product or service is good enough, they break though the restrictions and become a need, not a nuisance.

Older Streetcar Suburb or Village-Style District

A new study by the National Trust for Historic Preservation divided up DC, San Francisco and Seattle by block and analyzed spending and traffic patterns. It found that in older, village-style districts stores stay open later, more venues, such as performance spaces or bars are open later, people utilizing tend to be younger and more energetic and the cost for doing business is lower for entrepreneurs. Many may resent commercial encroachment in some of these neighborhoods, but if businesses are forced to keep a small footprint, then they are more likely to interact with those people already in the community, because they as companies have to reach out for additional resources.

Showrooms

I see this as a way that the big box stores can get back in the urbanist social graces. Yes, have a big distribution center, but only out by existing interstate spurs that actually connect states and not loops. Let the cities, towns and villages be spaces where people get to know samples of your products or touch the items like fruit and dairy that have a high expiration date. Here they can try on the clothes of your brands, and then know their exact measurements, to then pull out smartphones and put in a regular recurring shipment of slacks or shift dresses. They can also get to know new products and come talk to a person to ask questions and raise concerns about product quality or usage.

Home Delivery

The other way that box stores and major scale commerce can get back into a more personal style of selling. Piggybacking on the showcase above, if a person knows what size they are, and how much of a non-perishable food item they need, then why not go ahead and ship it to their home. Take the costs of  displaying items on a large level and put that back into direct-to-home shipping. Encourage people to purchase on a monthly or quarterly basis in large quantities, so that not only they can budget for your store’s goods, but you can also know exactly what to expect in income and expenses, reducing the anxiety of knowing where and when a market or a customer base will show up. Also, if you offer installation or any other type of services, you help the customer by taking some of the work of using your product away from them.

Budgeting

This is the final piece of responsible, experience-based retail. When a person budgets, they take into account when certain vendors are around, when delivery is scheduled to come with other goods and they know approximately how much they need to spend. Likewise for businesses, it helps the cash flow accounts of businesses who know exactly when money is coming in the door. For those who are in the village/mobile model of retail, it helps keep overhead expenses down as you determine where to settle and where to travel.

Further Applications and Final Thoughts

The main caveat to all these methods is spontaneity. What if you want to try something new? How do you discover new things? What if production and processing costs go up? This is where communication and trust are vital. Make it easy, if you are in the showroom/delivery model, for people to cancel, as well as see when products change prices or if products are running low. Or, if you have new customers for products, help them see the process of getting these products to them and explain why it may take longer for others to show up.

For those in the village/mobility model, people can make the choices for themselves not to show up. If a neighborhood or district doesn’t support you as a business anymore, you can always pack up and move somewhere else, until you find yourself stable enough to establish roots and maybe even expand into the showroom/delivery model.

To conclude, this represents a radical reorganization of how we purchase. Yet, this reorganization has already began in many markets and is the only thing keeping others afloat, especially in a world where Amazon could be the only showroom, leaving all others to forge smaller footprints if they want something more personal or customized. It also calls upon retailers themselves to form different alliances and collectives.

How would you add a sense of place back into activities of commerce?

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The Department Store of the Amazon and New Urbanist Age

Coming to the end of the maze that is IKEA. Satisfied and with a full yellow bag. Image by the author.

Coming to the end of the maze that is IKEA. Satisfied and with a full yellow bag. And yes, it’s blurry on purpose. Tell me I’m not wrong for feeling this way at the end of an IKEA trip. Image by the author.

As of this writing, I’ve just learned that the Belk at the Four Seasons Mall, the last remaining enclosed mall in Greensboro, will close at the beginning of 2015. I fully expect two things at that mall. One, it will go the way of the Carolina Circle Mall, our other enclosed mall and be torn down and replaced with a super Walmart. Or two, it will be rebirthed à la North Hills in Raleigh, JC Penney in tact and Target attached.

My theories are leaning towards the later. Walmart Neighborhood Market just arrived in the space of an old Borders (which was doing well until the chain itself went under), that’s just about a half-mile away and it seems to be happy and doing fine. As of this writing, I have investigated this claim in person, and walked out with a large tub of sea salt caramel ice cream. There are benefits to the world domination of Walmart.

Likewise, there are also benefits to the world domination of Amazon. Big box and traditional department stores either step their game up and stay in business or they count their losses and combine forces at one central location, as the Greensboro Belk will do, by going to Friendly Center. I also would like to note here that at one point, Friendly Center was said to be on the rocks. Now, it’s our shining example of that hybrid that I mentioned of the mall and the main street.

Getting back to that hybrid idea for a moment, although I bemoan the new North Hills’s gentrification from a housing standpoint, its efficiency is bar none. All the places I love to shop, save IKEA and the Limited are right on site. The best plain wings in North Carolina are right in-house at the Q Shack.  I get my chicken quesadilla fix at Moe’s and yes, I still have a soft spot for Chic-Fil-A chicken nuggets, which is conveniently located next to the movie theater, giving me more options besides popcorn for movies. Harris Teeter is now across the very busy Six Forks Road, but so is the brand new North Hills amphitheater and several other fun spots. The crosswalks are long and safe enough, it’s not so bad.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the suckling power of the Great Bullseye, the crown jewel of this setup. Just look at this map of how Target has grown over the years. The sad part is that map stops at 2008. I’m sure the map is completely red at this point. What is it really about the store? The Wikipedia entry gives a great nod to the attention to customer experience. When I come to Target, I’m not prompted in-between sad old songs to buy things. (Although, I will interrupt my Target love fest to say that the IKEA’s choice to play disco era jams during my last visit was also spot on. But more on the big blue box in a minute).

Target’s usually a stop after work when I’m tired and I need time to process my day, as well as pick up a few things. I know that most of those things will be there. Plus, I get entertained by a few wants and for the most part they don’t fall into my cart. Even with the card security issues, Target offers an actual happy experience over crowded spaces, extremely overpriced, but of similar quality clothing, and just the right foods to stock up my pantry. Once again, they are committed to being a part of city life too, with stores in mixed use developments, traditional malls, East Harlem and its new CityTarget concept in the Chicago Loop.

That other big box of weakness, IKEA, does its part to be urbanist and hip to the Amazon Prime crowd. You can actually see what everything looks like, in a real room setup. Now granted, I’m used to this, having grown up a stones throw from the furniture capital of the world and the year-round, well-dressed, showrooms of furniture of real wood and already-assembled craftsmanship. However, how many stores show you how cool your studio apartment really is? How many stores have kitchen and bathroom and office planning consultants on site? And seriously, how many have pillows made of hearts with arms ready for hugs. Sure, you’ll probably need lots of hugs after you finish putting together all that furniture, but they’ve also made sure you ate well coming in and out of the door.

Like all for-profit companies, including that Amazon, there have been issues with labor, poor products, poor customer service and once again, that many of these stores are always in driving distance. Yet, they do deliver. This, is what makes IKEA and Target, in my opinion, the department stores that will lead the way as we become more digital and return to the traditional main streets from the malls and the box stores.

All this to say that the Four Seasons Mall will not die from this announcement. It has a major Sheraton hotel and convention operation in its parking lot. It has one of those other hip for the digital age stores, H&M, which just moved in a little less than a year ago. It has lost and regained its movie theater, a major way of bringing traffic in that doesn’t involve the consumption of objects as much as it does the experience. The Greensboro Coliseum is only a mile away and it’s the bookend to the city’s new effort to revitalize and reinvigorate the soon to be Gate City Boulevard corridor. Its formal name is now the Four Seasons Town Centre, which would make it easy for someone like General Growth Properties, who currently owns the mall, to convert and market it in a manner similar to its Durham mall, The Streets of Southpoint, once the demand and demographics change. Even now, with its frontage onto I-40, it can still function as a great regional mall and destination, like it has in the past.

Yet,  all these ideas put revitalization and customer service in the hands of the companies. How does placemaking and tactical urbanism deal with retail and purchasing needs? Stay tuned.

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Malls and Main Streets–Two Sides of the Same Coin?

Malls:Main Street

Say the words mall and main street and two very different images come up. I’m going to guess the former image involves neon signs, fountains and Sbarro, while the latter may also include a fountain, but a barber pole and Sheriff Andy Taylor. Well, until recently,when popular acceptance of new urbanist principles created a hybrid of the two in many areas, which is a revival, not a hybrid.

Much of my urbanism is informed by a love for the traditional enclosed mall. And like the love I have for my city, it is a tough love. After all, it depends on whether I really need to buy a bunch of clothes, or a Cinnabon, since that’s all that seems to exist at these structures these days. Once upon a time though, I lived for the weekend trip to The Disney Store and Waldenbooks. I find more comfort these days on “main street”, called Elm Street here in Greensboro. I like that there are multiple types of businesses, fresh air, and a culture of people just coming to hang out and fellowship, not just spend money on objects.

Yet, the truth is that I could probably stick to my budget and do all my ordering of things on Amazon and have a good time at an-all inclusive beach resort. Retail is retail is retail right? As long as there’s a product and an exchange of currency, all forms of shopping are the same right? Why then, should I (and in turn you) be concerned with the keeping of our shopping districts, no matter the form?

First, because for so many communities, even the reviled inclosed mall creates community. Many people have shied away from malls, citing too many_______ people (Fill in the blank however you please). However, for those ______ people, the mall does keep them out of  trouble , provide a source of employment, a safe place to walk, and of course clothes and Cinnabons. Also, for small business owners, older enclosed malls and strip centers provide cheap office and storefront space that can help them create a livelihood, and in turn, create opportunities for their families and the greater community.

Other older malls have reinvented themselves as churches, libraries, schools, indoor farms and food markets. Likewise for main streets in smaller towns and cities that were once areas of empty shells and blight, but have been brought back to life. A bonus for the main streets is that many of the buildings were built in an era where quality was king and time was taken to create structures that not only last, but have lots of architectural character.

Secondly, dead real estate is dead real estate, no matter the location. As we learned in Retrofitting Suburbia and the Sprawl Repair Manual, even if it started as sprawl, going back to fix it can re-ignite the community and keep a neighborhood from going into further decline. Going back to imagining things, I see a montage of main streets going from the heyday of the mid 20th century, to the late 20th century abandonment and neglect, to the indie stores and street festivals and new apartments of today. If we can fix main street, we can fix the enclosed mall and make it a proper community center too.

Third, not everyone will understand or find benefits in online shopping. It’s still best to try clothes on and handle fruits and vegetables before you purchase them. I remember the one time I bought shoes online, I ended up with major blisters and a weird gait on a day where walking really mattered (my graduation day from NC State). Plus, who can deny how well a human touch can make even the worst product the best in the world.

Lastly, even though I’ve said that the mall is probably dead, I also believe it does matter who owns the corner store. Retail is a strange animal, but where would we be without it? This is where I give props to the homesteaders who seem to have answered that question. Meanwhile, for the rest of us, onward and upward to Target and IKEA.

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Wait, That’s Really a House?

Via Wikimedia

My dad and I used to talk about how he was going to make himself an office in his backyard shed. He’d made a good amount of money putting electricity in other people’s dutch barns and other iterations of storage sheds/backyard workshops. It was only a matter of time that he would slow down enough and put wires in his. Meanwhile, I’d use the shed as my play kitchen, with the nice wooden kindergarten furniture that we’d picked up at the local public school surplus auction.

Unfortunately, the shed never made it past my mud pie emporium to being dad’s full office. In fact, I’m sure he’d be tickled to see just how many people have decided to not only wire and keep some sort of office in backyard sheds, but actually live in the things and call them so nicely, tiny homes.

While the movement has origins as far back as 1960′s counterculture, the movement picked up steam during the recent major economic recession, as well as in the aftermath of several major devastating storms, namely Hurricane Katrina and the Katrina cottage. They’ve been touted as a solution to chronic homelessness. Many others are propelled by the ability to live life somewhat off the grid, somewhat simply and in some cases tax and mortgage free. It’s also a slightly more stable alternative than just living in a sedan or a van, but many van dwellers consider themselves members of the tiny home movement too.

So what makes a home “tiny” versus “small”? The common nomenclature (as listed by Wikipedia in their article on the movement), states that a tiny home is any house or non-self-propelled vehicular structure that is less than 1,000 square feet. As stated above, some van and RV dwellers count themselves in too, as well as those in traditional trailers. Yet, what makes these tiny homes different, at least in my opinion, is their resemblance to a normal, stick-built, bungalow or ranch home. If one took the wheels off of some of these homes, they could be confused for our friend above, the storage shed. They could also be right at home on Apartment Therapy.

Another question one may ask is that is this really new? No, not at all. What has happened is that much of the stigma of living in such a small quarter has dulled, seeing that many of these homes have many modern accouterments, and are remarkably space efficient, for far less money than some rental apartments.

Lastly, this has major implications for sprawl repair and even traditional new urbanism. Traditional new urbanism has always been a proponent of the accessory dwelling unit (ADU or more colloquially, the granny flat). Yet, with more and more people moving into already dense and raptly gentrifying metro areas, as well as fleeing to cheaper suburban areas, allowing for more units per acre and in a way that is aesthetically pleasing and financially prudent is vital. Plus, these have become showcases for homes in the 1,000-2,000 square foot range of how these homes can appear to be mansion-like, thanks to efficient uses of space. Especially in the case of the Katrina cottage, people can rebuild something that looks and may even be the same size as what they lost, in a short period and without incurring newer, higher expenses.

I can’t lie, the idea of a tiny house is very appealing for me for my next move. However, I have yet to see a community of them anchor what’s already in denser housing communities, at least in my area. I’m better to stick to a traditional sized ranch, bungalow or a townhome.

What about you? Would a “tiny” house be too tiny? Could you get over the feeling that you really live in a  glorified shack?

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Could You Really Survive In Your Car By Choice?

An iconic image of van living. Could this be sustainable over the long-term? Image credit.

When one thinks of living in a car, it’s usually because they have gone broke or they are trying to build up something and housing is not a reasonable expense. Think of the laid off corporate worker, the family who has lost their home to foreclosure or the  wannabe Holywood actor or music artist who is making do wherever they can.

However, this post is about something different. This is taking the ethos built by those who are creating tiny houses or even living in tents to be more minimalist and applying it to cars. In a previous post, I highlighted an organization that I serve on the board of, that allows people who are homeless at any level ( homes but no other income; income, but no house to receive mail at, etc.), to have basic services such as showers, mailboxes, phone service and haircuts. Our facility is geared towards the “traditionally” homeless, i.e. those that don’t have other choices or have major issues that made them homeless. What if though, a Sheetz or Wawa functioned like a combination between those travel plazas on I-95 in Maryland and a traditional truck stop. People could rent parking spaces similar to the way they rent hotel rooms or campground plots. In making rest areas or “vehicle-dweller” service areas more prominent and clean, could we offer a viable option to those who want to simplify their lives, starting with using their vehicle as both transportation and shelter?

In researching this post, I also wanted to make sure that there weren’t any major safety hazards living in a car long-term. According to this site, from someone who started out living in a smaller car and now lives in a van, the main concerns are disposing of human waste, proper ventilation and heating (with and without using the gas or keeping the car cranked) and proper storage and preparation of food. While the site is somewhat geared to those who are in their cars on a temporary basis, there are a lot of good tips that could come in handy on a coast-to-coast road trip or if people were forced to deal with something like the sudden snowstorms that hit several southern states randomly and at in opportune times. This site, written in March, is geared to someone who chose to live in their sedan and the things they did to survive to continue to do more outdoorsy stuff. Even they eventually moved into someone’s garage, because of both the expense and practicality of having enough room for stuff and a place to go in weird weather.

If I had a choice, I’d prefer to not live in my car. But this is only because of creäture comforts. If I did live in my car, this is what I would do:

Invest in a gym membership: for exercise, showering and socialization

Set all of my bills to auto-pay and find a friend who has an address I can use for other items: Making sure bills get paid and that I can still get Christmas and birthday cards. And yes, tax notices and any other legal notices that may come through.

Budget funds for eating out, printing documents and campground fees: Knowing how I eat already, I would not actually cook in my car. With having a web business, plus also working a normal job, I’d occasionally need to sign documents, so I’d budget for that. In addition, I’d want to know I had a legal place to park, so I’d use a campground.

However, all three of these tips above include expenses that can add up to far more than the cost of a basic studio apartment in my area. Yet, in another big area, I’d strongly consider living in my vehicle, since I already own it and all I would need to do is to continue paying its taxes and fees. Yet, not being able to park safely, finding a decent gym and finding a place for mail would all be deal breakers.

So what about you, could you casually or purposefully live in a car?

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