Your Environment Update for November 12, 2015

  • Eve Picker's City Lab project is building Pittsburgh's first tiny house in the city's Garfield neighborhood. The project is one of 16 experiments designed to lure creative workers to the neighborhood, which has struggled to attract new residents. Photo: Lou Blouin

November 12, 2015

Pittsburgh's First Tiny House Could Be a Model in the Rust Belt

Two years. That’s how long developer Eve Picker has been trying to build Pittsburgh’s first tiny house. It wasn’t easy. She couldn’t even get a loan from a bank because the project was so unusual. But the project is now finally underway over in Pittsburgh’s Garfield neighborhood.

“Yes, it makes it feel real. I love construction. The messier it gets, the happier I am,” Picker says.

The 330-square-foot, open-concept dwelling is sort of like a studio apartment with a porch and a yard. It even has a (tiny) basement. And it’s the first example we could find in the country where a developer is building and offering a tiny house for sale in a city neighborhood. But it could be something we start seeing more of—especially in Rust Belt cities, which have lost a lot of population and are now trying to figure out what to do with all their vacant land.

“In shrinking cities, I think it could be used as a model,” says Leila Bozorg, a public housing expert who’s surveyed tiny house projects nationwide. "Where you have a lot of individual plots of land that used to have large homes built on them that are no longer viable, I think that could be an interesting test whether there’s demand enough from folks that are seeking affordable housing to go to tiny homes as an alternative.”

The first test of that alternative is about ready to play out. Eve Picker's tiny house will go on sale next week. The price starts at $109,500.

Reporting by Lou Blouin

Do Pennsylvania Communities Have the Right to Ban Fracking?

In 2013, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled cities and towns could limit some aspects of fracking within their borders. Ever since, municipalities around the state have struggled over what to do about fracking.

In Churchill, a small borough just east of Pittsburgh, the council recently passed an ordinance to restrict fracking to certain locations.  Fracking will now only be allowed in a small section of the town on a property formerly owned by Westinghouse.

Some Churchill residents were pushing for an outright ban, citing the city of Pittsburgh’s 2010 ordinance banning fracking as an example of a city’s right to do so. Churchill’s council was advised that a similar ban would not hold up in court. Pittsburgh’s ban has yet to face a legal challenge.

Reporting by Reid Frazier