99 Problems But the Beach Ain't One

Now, the tired but true maxim…say it with me…I need a vacation after my vacation. It’s time for me to get back to it though. By the time you read this, I'll be back in corn country where my clients and I are working to Reclaim Main Street and start a Riverfront Renaissance. Some day I’ll give ya’ll an update on our exciting work out there, be on the lookout. For now, I offer my thoughts on a vacation in its death throes…

I got up before the crack of dawn on Saturday morning to push, pull and drag the children and our various sandy belongings into the family truckster.  I was in quite a hurry to get back to the Scenic City. We drove for probably 30 minutes before we realized that we left members of the family behind. Beau Brummie and Big Al are the cherished stuffed animals of the oldest, were left at the cottage. The eight year old can count on one small hand the number of nights he has slept without them. For those not in the know, these little guys are simulacrum of sports mascots:  Beau Brummie of Birmingham City FC, and Big Al of the University of Alabama.  After giving brief (but serious) consideration to leaving the damned things behind, I realized that I would not be able to survive the fall-out of that decision. Back to the beach went, and that little excursion cost me more than a precious hour.

Oh, I would never leave you guys...

The reason for the rush is that a member of the C.Rushing circle and dear friend J.Hardaway was to exchange marriage vows that afternoon. I arrived home, passed children off to waiting grandparents, made a quick change to the suit (looking clean I must say), and dashed to the wedding. It was a lovely affair- mirth, happiness and celebration. (Let the record show, however,  that I did not touch the orange and white checker-boarded groom’s cake…I suspect it tasted of disappointment and defeat.) Footballs jokes aside, I’m so happy for my buddy and offer him and his bride my heartiest congratulations and best wishes for the future. This now brings my list of American buddies who have never been married to…one. That’s how old I am.

...of this lot...three down, one to go.
T'was a long day after a long week, and I was happy to have my head back on my own pillow.  I must say that I'm still getting reacquainted with the neighborhood and the house. The reason is quite obvious, and it is one of scale. I built the Madison Street project (my humble abode), on very tight lots, and the houses are of necessity and by design much smaller (by 33%) than a “typical” American house. Our neighborhood is one of the denser single-family neighborhoods in the city (it is not uncommon for lots to be 30’ wide or less). From time to time I feel the house is a bit small, but save for the over-sizing of the newer homes, the neighborhood feels about right. A week in Seaside has, for the time being, distorted my perspective.

On this trip we stayed in a small carriage house of one of the larger cottages. I didn’t think to measure it, but by mental map I bet it was 560sf (plus a 50sf front porch). Making it a little over 1/3rd the size of my home which is itself considered to be small. Despite its diminutive size, the house accommodated the life activities of two adults and two children reasonably well. From a design standpoint, the rectangle is entered from a six-foot deep porch that's as wide as the house. The interior comprises two large rooms (living/dining room and bedroom) separated by a core consisting of a bathroom accessed from bedroom, and galley kitchen and laundry/pantry that serve to connect the two larger rooms. Above the core is a loft with two beds that opens to the high ceilinged living room. As for Seaside, it is New Urbanism (almost) as advertised. (Their motto is dense, diverse and walkable- well, it’s definitely dense and walkable.) A few narrow streets and a number of narrow pedestrian paths connect the town. It seems that there isn’t a cottage that can’t be touched from some right of way, such is the nature of their building set-backs. Within this matrix of path and building, native trees and plants have populated the interstitial space. The place feels like a bespoke suit, albeit a snuggly fitted one. (As an aside, I think this is why the place feels odd to me- there's no such thing as growth and evolution. The entirety was built as one, and while the elements within the framework can be razed and rebuilt over time, the organism is in a kind of stasis.) The result of these conditions is that for a solid week I lived a “normal” life, just in a smaller dwelling and community.  

When I was finally able to kick off my shoes and survey the old homestead, I was shocked to find that both house and neighborhood felt MASSIVE. Could I have lived an everyday life with a wife and two children in 560 sf? Probably not. (The man who complains about not having his Burberry swim trunks probably has more clothes than can fit in a 6sf closet.) The experience however, was a fantastic reminder that the perception of space, and our “needs” are plastic ideals. It's possible to live a rich and rewarding life in less than 4,000 square feet. As we work on the next big thing in Chattanooga- increasing density- we need to make the case for greater spatial economy.

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