Tuesday, October 11, 2011

unrealistic utopia

During my wanderings of the internets recently I found this example of a relatively inexpensive housing project that's under construction somewhere outside of Houston. The idea is to use 500 shipping containers outfitted with solar panels and other green technologies as affordable housing for whoever feels like experimenting with a different community lifestyle. My first thought was that it looks a lot like the Alamo and would probably be just as easily defended but to what purpose is anybody's guess - except perhaps as a retreat during the zombie apocalypse. The executives in charge of the Hive project describe it thus:

The containers will be easily affordable for working artists and creative professionals. Rents will range from $300 to $500 a month, and purchase prices from $10,000 to $50,0000, depending on how built out the container is — many of the containers will be offered as just shells with electricity and plumbing to give tenants creative freedom in their design. A variety of tenant uses will be offered in the square 288-container perimeter, including office, studio, retail, restaurant, entertainment, and residential. The goal is to have everything a regular village has: a farmers’ market, a veterinarian clinic, a daycare, a health clinic, recycling centers, art studios, coffee shops and more.

On the one hand it's kind of a cool idea but there are a few problems that immediately occurred to me and its sustainability is certainly questionable. For one thing, it's going to be built miles away from town on 6.5 wooded acres of land. Cars won't be allowed inside the perimeter but I saw no mention of grocery store, school, post office, movie theater, roller rink, museum, or any place where someone might go to earn a living. Wouldn't it make a lot more sense to place such a development close to where people already live? If they built it instead on some huge area of urban blight or rehabilitated the soils of an abandoned industrial complex and placed it there sustainability would be much more realistic.

Oh, nevermind. Let's just watch a little movie I found instead.

In The Fall from Steve Cutts on Vimeo.


  1. i think this would work better as a lego village....all those little cars in the lot, the trees, the birds above the trees[i think], all we need are the lego peeps... and the tractors, cranes, bulldozers and hard-hatted people could come along too to build the thing-what a lego goldmine!

    yes, i agree with you. a groc and school are rather important and perhaps a few other things too....this is just plain weird as are there even this many trees in the outskirts of this city? and imagine if the plumbing backed up inside there somewhere and rather small at just over 200+ sq ft isn't it? where do you walk the dogs and where would all the cats go?

    when i first saw the photo i did think legoland! ;) yes, i would watch it if i had the bandwidth...trouble is i don't know where it went...a bit disconcerting... xoxo

  2. It looks like a good idea at first glance Susan, if it is structurally sound. But it is not so good in terms of amenities or location. Perhaps this could do well on a brown field site

  3. I thought of Legoland too! We visited the original in Denmark.

    The concept of smaller affordable homes is a good one, filling a crying need, but if this is situated like so many suburban gated communities in North America, far from needed services and requiring a car to just get a litre of milk or go to work, that would just be continuing the problems that already exist and are one reason for our environmental problems. I looked further into this and it did say that it's in town and there are some services including buses to the city centre - but that is something I'd have to study very closely if I were a buyer into it.

    Scary animation!!

  4. as others seem to agree, I like the concept, but, as you point out, they seem to have left out some little details that might be important.... and is there anywhere to grow a few veggies and flowers? or play? and, with high density and not a lot of parking, this leaves everyone in need of good public transit.... but ? how far away from work?

  5. Okay, seems cool, but............
    I can just see yet more forests destroyed with pollution, that is truly sad.

  6. You sly one. You drew me into one of those discussions that you never let me win, the ecological, sustainability, green, we are wasteful ones, then you post that movie that shows us how stupid we all really are! Oh well, I knew that.
    Honestly, I think about simplification often. I always think that ideas of this type was that the people always seem to want to live their lives like they do in the actual society. No one wants to do without a grocery store, for example.
    get a 100 pound sack of beans and eat them. Not all at one sitting, of course, spead it out, over the course of a year, maybe a large sack of rice too. Then you don't need a grocery store. But you do need water, for the beans, the rice and yourself.
    Okay, I had my say. By the way, I've been falling like that cartoon all my life. I keep bouncing off of awnings, getting up and falling again.


  7. I have to agree. It it was in the middle of a city it would make much more sense.

  8. linda - It does look a lot like a legoland in the woods and you're right, I have no idea where all those trees might be found outside Houston either. The whole project doesn't seem to be as well planned as they seem to imagine.

    I'm sorry you couldn't see the video - maybe next time.

    jams - Yes, a brownfield site would be better if it were cleaned up first.

    marja-leena - That was what I thought too. There's definitely a need for smaller homes but there's a lot of unused property in American cities that would benefit from having an associated community. More suburbs are definitely not what's called for.

    gfid - The thing that irritates me is the fact we need more planning to make the best use of current urban areas but instead, have developers who buy a piece of land in the countryside and do what they like.

    gemel - That is the annoying part, isn't it?

    spadoman - I couldn't help it with the movie since the last part when he just shrugged and lit a cigarette made me laugh. All those years at a desk wasted.

    The plan for using containers as housing isn't bad because there are already so many of the things but if you've ever looked at one (or a few hundred), as I'm sure you have, they don't immediately shout 'cozy'. Quite the opposite in fact. I'd rather see a community of yurts. Buying food in bulk and having a garden is a better bet for living a low key lifestyle.

    nancy - It would be much more fun too.

  9. Are you suggesting that places like Phoenix aren't sustainable cities? It's not like it's built out in the middle of the desert or something crazy like that.

    I think I want to live in Legoland.

  10. randal - Maybe they could just stick it in one of the dried up swimming pools of las Vegas.

  11. shipping containers... well I suppose its a house you can weld....
    the little movie, unfortunatly its true to life..

  12. claire - Using them as parts of modular housing isn't such a bad idea simply because there are so many going unused but I agree they're not optimal. The movie was one of those sad but true lessons.

  13. Love the movie. What a delight!

    The pod village is interesting but it looks out of place in the forest. They should have built it closer to town and had public transportation from the site to the city center. Or something like that. If not cared for well this place has all the makings of being "The Projects outside of Houston."