Tent City Urbanism explores the intersection of two phenomenons—

the rise of democratic tent cities 
organized by the unhoused 


the "tiny house movement" led by people looking to simplify their lives by downsizing their environmental footprint.

In between we find the tiny house village—a practical, community-based approach to restoring a simple housing option that preserves personal autonomy. This progression from camp to village has inspired the development of three distinct models for infilling the growing gap between the street and conventional housing options—the sanctuary camp, the transitional village, and the affordable village.

What is a tent city?

A tent city can be defined as a well-rooted homeless encampment, often with a larger number of inhabitants and some level of organizational structure. There is no set point at which an encampment becomes a tent city, rather it is an abstract label that is adopted by its inhabitants and/or the surrounding community. 

Tent cities demonstrate how, when formal systems fail to meet the most basic needs of all citizens, people will inevitably develop their own solutions. And with a closer look, one will find that these communities often embody positive dynamics that have been forgotten by the formal systems they replace—including personal autonomy, mutual aid, direct democracy, tolerance, and resourceful strategies for living with less. In beginning to think about a future with more sustainable housing strategies, these are some of the core values that should guide us.

What are some examples of tent cities?


Tent City 3 - Seattle, WA (2001) - 100 residents / Itinerant

Tent City 4 - Seattle, WA (2004) - 100 residents / Itinerant
Pinellas Hope - St. Petersburg, FL (2007) - 250 residents / Private Land
Camp Quixote - Olympia, WA (2007-2013) - 30 residents / Itinerant
Camp Hope - La Cruces, NM (2011) - 50 residents / Private Land


Nicklesville - Seattle, WA (2008) - Public Land 

Right 2 Dream Too - Portland, OR (2011) - 30 residents + 60 rest area spaces / Private Land
Camp Take Notice - Ann Arbor, MI (2008-2012) - Public Land
Whoville - Eugene, OR (2013- 2014) - Public Land 

Why tent city urbanism?

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 modern cities. Tent City Urbanism is a microcosm of urbanization being carried out by the destitute of the 21st century. Specifically, it focuses on the progression from unsanctioned camps to sanctioned tiny house villages, and the physical and social organization that occurs along the way.

Why a tiny house village?

The tiny house village offers a hybrid land use that combines the privacy and character of the single-family home with the economy and density of the apartment building.  It presents an opportunity to not only address the cost and over-sized nature of our limited existing housing options, but also to rethink the social isolation that it has come to embody. By building small and sharing resources within a village model, financial costs and environmental impact are minimized while opportunities for casual social interaction are maximized.

Where are these tiny house villages?

- Sanctioned 2001 / City-owned Land / 60 residents
- Article 1: "A View of Dignity Village"
- Article 2: "Portland's Dignity Village: Thirteen Years Later"

OPPORTUNITY VILLAGE - Eugene, OR (website)

- Sanctioned 2013 / City-owned Land / 30 units
- Article 1: "Opportunity Village: Up and Running"
- Article 2: "Development at Opportunity Village"
- Article 3: "Opportunity Village as a place for pooling and mobilizing local resources PART I"
- Article 4: "Opportunity Village as a place for pooling and mobilizing local resources PART II"

QUIXOTE VILLAGE - Olympia, WA (website)
- Sanctioned 2013 / County-owned land / 30 units
- Article 1: "Quixote Village in Olympia, WA"
- Article 2: "Quixote "Village: The High Cost of Federal Funding"

SECOND WIND COTTAGES - Ithaca, NY (website)
- Sanctioned 2013 / Private Land / 18 units (Development Stage)

OM VILLAGE - Madison, WI (website)

- Sanctioned 2014 / Private Land / 9 units (Development Stage)
- Article 1: "Occupy Madison Build"

- Sanctioned 2014 / Private Land / 200 units (Development Stage)
- Article 1: The Details on Austin's 200-unit Micro-Housing Community

What about building codes and zoning regulations?

Villages of this nature that have been implemented thus far have had to undergo extensive public review processes as part of a Conditional Use Permit or a Planned Unit Development. However, great strides are being made to make it easier to start a tiny house community—both by working within the existing code and writing new codes. Posts on this topic include: 

>> "Tiny Houses Embraced by City of Eugene, Oregon">> "Navigating Minimum Square Footage Requirements"
>> "Movement Growing Toward Legalizing Tiny Houses"
>> "A Legal Path to Tiny House Communities"
>> "Emerald Village Tiny House Prototype"

About the author:

Right 2 Dream Too in Portland
Andrew Heben is an urban planner, writer, and tiny house builder based in Eugene, Oregon. He has traveled throughout the U.S. to study over a dozen tent cities organized by the homeless, and spent time living at one in Ann Arbor, Michigan known as Camp Take Notice. This experience informed his 2011 award-winning thesis in urban planning at the University of Cincinnati. Heben has since helped co-found SquareOne Villages, a non-profit organization that advocates for and builds self-managed tiny house villages. In 2013 he assisted in the planning, design, and building of Opportunity Village, which now houses 30 otherwise homeless individuals and couples at a time. This work, combined with his previous research, inspired Heben's book: 

Tent City Urbanism: From Self-Organized Camps to Tiny House Villages.

Contact Andrew here.