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Intentionally small home: urban living in North Carolina

Nicole Alvarez grew up in a typical American suburbia: spacious homes, large yards, not walkable to town. Then she began her architecture education and spent some time abroad during college- living in Prague, Czech Republic and Aix-en-Provence, France- and fell in love with the European size streets, walking commutes and small apartments.

Back home in Raleigh, North Carolina, she wanted to live in something downtown where she could walk, bike or bus everywhere. Small apartments aren’t so easy to find here, but she beat out the competition on a 300-square-foot studio above a dentist’s office.

With her new home her love for small spaces grew even deeper so she started the site Intentionally Small to blog about her own experiences and those of other tiny home tenants. She’s even profiled her boyfriend- Matt Tomasulo- who lives, and works, in a small apartment where he runs his two city-related business (City Fabric and Walk Your City).

Alvarez also began to use her blog to talk about one type of tiny home that had become a political issue in Raleigh: Accessory dwelling units (ADUs) AKA granny flats, in-law suites, backyard cottages. Construction of new accessory dwelling units had been banned in Raleigh in the eighties, but given the current rapid growth in population, the city council was trying to decide whether to allow them again.

While the city debated, Alvarez was helping determine what a denser Raleigh might look like. She and a team of architects at In Situ Studio (where she was interning) created a proposal for a new zoning district, RA-50 (50 residential units per acre), that would build density through alleyway neighborhoods tucked into the centers of downtown blocks.

They also proposed affordable $30K homes that could be customizable with the purchase of plug-ins: bed + bath, den + media, porch + HVAC, stoop + kitchen, patio + waste.

Nearly a year after Nicole, her sister Julie Alvarez, and her boyfriend Matt began filming this documentary, radical change uprooted Nicole from both her home and political calling.

Despite some disappointment, she’s become even more attached to making her hometown denser and more walkable and to proving that small- and urban- can be beautiful.