Tent City Urbanism explores the intersection of the "tiny house movement" and tent cities organized by the homeless to present an accessible and sustainable housing paradigm that can improve the quality of life for everyone.
While tent cities tend to evoke either sympathy or disgust, the author finds such informal settlements actually address many of the shortfalls of more formal responses to homelessness. Tent cities often exemplify self-management, direct democracy, tolerance, mutual aid, and resourceful strategies for living with less. This book presents a vision for how cities can constructively build upon these positive dynamics rather than continuing to seek evictions and pay the high costs of policing homelessness.
The tiny house village provides a path forward to transitional and affordable housing within the grasp of a local community. It offers a bottom-up approach to the provision of shelter that is economically, socially, and environmentally sustainable—both for the individual and the city. The concept was first pioneered by Portland's Dignity Village, and has since been re-imagined by Eugene's Opportunity Village and Olympia's Quixote Village. Now this innovative model has emerged from the Northwest to inspire projects in Madison, Austin, and Ithaca, and is being pursued by advocacy groups throughout the country.
This 252-page book compiles four years of research on the topic and includes 37 photographs, 16 illustrations, and 7 case studies. Along with documenting and articulating the roots of this budding movement, the book provides a practical guide to help catalyze new and existing initiatives in other areas.
Andrew Heben is an urban planner, writer, and tiny house builder based in Eugene, Oregon. He has visited over a dozen tent cities and tiny house villages throughout the country, and spent time living in an unsanctioned, self governed tent city known as Camp Take Notice in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Heben has since helped co-found SquareOne Villages, a non-profit organization that puts many of the ideas within this book into action.
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"A very pragmatic approach that was inspirational to getting people in our community to see what could and should be done."
— Kitty Piercy, mayor of Eugene, OR
"Every town, city, suburb in America needs a place for our citizens to retreat to when the American Dream hasn’t exactly worked out for them. This can happen to any of us. Imagine the least that would honor you as a human being until you’re ready to plug in again. A place of refuge, to dry out, to learn work skills, and to get the confidence you need to succeed. Andrew’s village model and this book will help you learn how to do just that."
— Charles Durrett, author of Creating Cohousing
"The vision to create a living place of vitality, safety, and human scale is an indomitable urge that likely resides in all people. In fact, history bears out that people create sustainable places and mutual support networks whenever they have access to enough land, resources, and help. That said, Opportunity Village, supported mightily by Andrew Heben, has taken the lead in demonstrating the remarkable inspiring effects and healing power of such a vision in action. The idea that a group of people can undertake democratic processes in such a way that they repair themselves and create a sustainable expression of place will be of interest to everyone."
— Mark Lakeman, co-founder of City Repair
"A revolutionary document, a manifesto and manual wrapped in a visionary on-the-ground journey into which the rest of us are invited."
— Tom Atlee, author of The Tao of Democracy
Part I | FRAMEWORK
Chapter 1. Tent Cities Today
Chapter 2. Controlling and Reclaiming Space
Chapter 3. Tiny Houses
Chapter 4. From Camp to Village
Part II | CAMPS
Chapter 5. Ann Arbor’s Sanctuary Camp
Chapter 6. Nashville’s Organic Camp
Chapter 7. Seattle’s Itinerant Camp
Chapter 8. St. Petersburg’s Charitable Camp
Chapter 9. Portland’s Rest Area Camp
Part III | VILLAGES
Chapter 10. Portland’s Autonomous Village
Chapter 11. Olympia’s Formal Village
Part IV | GUIDE
Chapter 13. A Tent City Urbanism
Chapter 14. Advocating for a Village
Chapter 15. Planning & Designing a Village
Chapter 16. Building a Village
What You Can Do
Appendix A | Opportunity Village Concept Plan
Appendix B | Village Manual
From the Introduction (pg. xii-xiii):
The term “urbanism” commonly refers to the interaction between city dwellers and the built environment. A tent city urbanism, therefore, focuses on the character of tent cities, defined by the interaction between its members and the surrounding urban environment. Urbanism also implies a sense of progression—from early settlements to urban society. This book examines a microcosm of urbanization being carried out by the 21st century homeless and their advocates—progressing from tent to tiny house, from camp to village, and from emergency to transitional to affordable shelter.
These ad-hoc settlements take root in the cracks of the formal planning process. While they are often portrayed as a disorganized state of emergency, I find that the self-organized tent city actually addresses many of the shortfalls of more traditional responses to poverty. For example, they often exemplify self-management, direct democracy, tolerance, mutual aid, and resourceful strategies for living with less. Out of necessity, people have had to negotiate the sharing of space and resources, while unintentionally discovering the benefits of living in community.
Consequently, these tent cities provide a foundation for a village model—a model that physically builds upon the positive social elements of these camps by transitioning from tents to simple micro-housing structures, commonly known as tiny houses. This scenario improves the quality of life for the residents within, eases anxieties of the surrounding community, and sets a broader precedent for human-scale development with a light carbon footprint. Similar to the once popular SRO hotels, the village model provides a sense of ownership over a small, private space and combines that with shared, common spaces.
Tiny house villages offer a new paradigm for transitional and affordable housing that is more economically accessible and sustainable. The human-scale development can be carried out within a local community—establishing a grassroots model for developing low-cost housing without dependence on government subsidy. Additionally, it offers a more environmentally and socially sustainable housing option. Consequently, this book is intended not just for those looking for alternative solutions to homelessness, but also those seeking alternatives to conventional housing options. Alternatives that reduce human impact on our natural environment and focus on building communities rather than commodities. Unbeknownst to most, today’s tent cities are opening the doors to sustainable development.
In Part I of the book, I further define a framework for progressing from tent cities to tiny house villages. Parts II and III then delve into case studies of a variety of camps and villages throughout the United States. While the examples may be well-known within their local communities, they are often treated as isolated occurrences. This book ties together these similar trends throughout the country to develop a more comprehensive vision. Based on firsthand experience, I describe how each provides a unique take on a common goal of developing a stable “place to be” for the unhoused.
Finally, Part IV provides a practical guide for catalyzing new and existing initiatives in other cities. The various case studies are synthesized to define an ecology of community-based models—including the Sanctuary Camp, the Rest Area, the Transitional Village, and the Affordable Village. Following this, I focus on putting ideas into action, with specific reference to my experience in advocating for, planning, designing, and building Opportunity Village.