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Sky Cottage: A Zero Footprint Housing Solution In the Trees

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Where to build when limited land area is disappearing under the sea and when high rises gobble energy? How about an eco-village up in the trees? Cottages in the sky are inherently low-carbon, affordable, encourage community and take up zero ground level area. They are the ideal sustainable urban infrastructure for our time and place.

overview of the idea

"We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them." - Albert Einstein

You've already heard many solutions for reducing carbon output, car coops, local smart electric grids, rooftop solar, super insulated Passivhauses. And you've already thought about stopping rising tides by way of, dykes, artificial salt marshes and more. Cost overruns can plague megaprojects and hurricane Katrina showed us what can happen when a large dyke fails. We need something new.

What I propose is an entirely new form of neighborhood building: The Sky Cottage. There is an innovative, untapped potential for housing all over Metro Vancouver. It's in the trees. Look up and imagine a housing solution for those among us displaced by rising tides in the next century.

Housing build directly in trees are an ideal way to achieve density, affordability and cost effective urban residences with zero ground level impact. With an inherently neighborhood friendly elevated skywalk, sky cottages evoke a form of housing built to a human scale encouraging interaction with neighbors. 


how it works

We've all heard of tree forts, this is different. Imagine, if you will, a collection bachelor apartments suspended by cables among the large trees lining our streets. Such residences could be run as a strata or a housing coop by making use of shared resources such as a gym, a common room for birthday parties and guest facilities etc. By being in close proximity, they are ideally situated to take advantage of density-dependent systems like public transit and car-shares like Modo and Zipcar, thereby reducing the need for parking. Proximity to existing utilities would mean sky cottages could plug directly into municipal water and power. 

At a weight on the order of 10000 pounds per unit a sky cottage can easily be supported by steel cables with a capacity of 58800lbs suspended by tree-friendly Garnier limbs in flexible array of configurations. These same cables can also guy the trees in place such that they are protected from failure during storms. 

Energy efficiency is a defining issue of our future. Being relatively small a sky cottage makes use of virtuous cycles of energy and reusability. A smaller space requires less building materials and less energy to heat making them more amenable to Passivhaus standards requiring infinitesimal ongoing energy inputs.

A small sky cottage like a tiny house on the order of 100~200 square feet can be relocated and can use top quality building materials while still being much more affordable overall compared to a typical Vancouver house.

How communities will adapt and thrive

Building above the floodwaters means change. Fortunately with a sky cottage, we will have less conflict over limited ground space and less need to build high rises that are inherently isolating for residents. With neighborhoods of sky cottages we give opportunities for young families, students, and school teachers to live close to work in affordable comfort. By living directly in and among trees we directly motivate a neighborhood to have a vested interest in the health of the urban ecosystem since trees are literally the foundation of a village of sky cottages. 

With affordable housing for families we encourage an atmosphere of community. By raising our children to directly value and depend on the urban forest we will raise a generation who understand the importance of ecology in an intuitive and immediate way. 

And by developing a low carbon housing infrastructure that does not disrupt the ground level, we will be well on our way to grow the our municipalities up above flood waters in the surrounding forests without cutting them down to clear level space. 

Sky cottages could well be the answer to the big questions of our time. How can we live sustainably in harmony with our environment? Look up and ask the trees. 

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SFU Public Square Founding Council Member

Stephen A. Jarislowsky

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