Building a Wedge into Oakland’s Housing & Food Crisis


Though popular imagination associates Oakland with crime and poverty statistics, Oakland residents know their city to be a vibrant cultural crossroads with a rich history of community, social struggle, and offbeat individualism. Today Oakland flourishes on numerous fronts, including a boom in high-tech fabrication, small-scale fabrication and a national leadership role in fighting food deserts via urban agriculture.

Along with all of this, as well as the tech boom in neighboring San Francisco, comes rapid gentrification of a historically blue collar city. Housing costs in Oakland continue to get increasingly more expensive and out of reach for a lot of long time residents. As houses throughout the city are being sold to the highest bidder and long time tenants are being evicted by their landlords in favor of their wealthier replacements, working class and low income families are forced to scramble to find something affordable or move away from their home and community. For some, these changes mean getting resourceful.

The Laney College Wedge home reflects several of these diverse qualities, embodying a carefully integrated combination of both high-tech green technologies and age-old passive solar principles passed on by our ancestors. The final house demonstrates cutting-edge yet attainable technologies that can create positive change in the lives of many of Oakland’s residents.

The Wedge is designed as a more affordable long term housing option for Oakland natives who refuse to leave their city despite their inability to compete in the competitive housing market. This may be a single parent and their child, a couple, or two friends, as the house is built to accommodate two beds. The residents of the house are committed to resourcefulness, both from a mindset of sustainability and cost efficiency. They grow their own food, using their wastewater and compost, making use of free, available resources and cutting down on their food expenses. They take advantage of their position in sunny California by running their appliances and lighting entirely by solar energy.

Just as the urban farming movement teaches city residents that food production is within their grasp, the Wedge shows people that yes, you can heat a home for a fraction of the typical cost. Yes, you can live off-grid without a lot of hassle. And yes, you can live in a much smaller space… and with a surprising degree of comfort. The Wedge home isn’t just inspirational, it’s aspirational. There’s a different way to live, it says, and here’s how you might do it. 

The Wedge embodies net-zero design philosophies, meaning it generates all the energy it needs onsite. By it’s nature, the design is also a living model of the various aspects of Zero Waste: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle and Rot. Its small footprint makes it easy to place on the small and odd-shaped lots common to cities, and being on wheels, it can be easily relocated as required to respond to changing needs. The fresh- and gray-water systems respond to the environmental challenges of living in California where every drop of water is precious and must be used, reclaimed and reused to the fullest extent.

Ideally the Wedge will find itself situated amid an urban farming project, where its self-sustaining systems will allow it to easily integrate into the surrounding environs and where its educational/aspirational aspects will complement those of the farming project itself. What better place for a tiny house than a formerly abandoned lot?

The Wedge would provide housing for the caretakers for a newly developed urban farming project on a vacant lot in downtown Oakland. This farming project would be part of, and/or partnered with other local organizations providing education in sustainability and urban food production. Ideally, the house would be situated on the lot so as to take the best advantage of the solar exposure. All energy requirements would be satisfied off-grid without the need to tie into municipal systems. The water for the house would come from the same water source as the farming project, with Net Zero water usage — all water consumed by the Wedge would be returned to the project as either gray-water or compost. The caretakers, a couple, would provide education for the local community on sustainability and urban gardening practices, and would demonstrate how the systems of their tiny home complement and support its environment.

If the Wedge’s stated goals seem a little bold, don’t be surprised. After all, Oakland’s commonly known for being a little rebellious itself.