URBAN CAR CAMPING
The Recreational Vehicle Industry Association estimates that there are over 7.2 million RVs currently on the road, and about 1 million of these are occupied by full time RVers, meaning drivers without a permanent address. This trend underscores a cultural shift to a more nomadic lifestyle dependent on a flexible infrastructure of cellular phones and satellite Internet, as well as a growing network of RV parks catering to a mobile populace. The full time RVer is not limited to the stereotypical senior citizen, it is a diverse group of drivers, many employed in normal jobs but preferring the independence, flexibility of a mobile residency.
The effect of this new mobile class is now being felt in the California cities of Venice, Santa Monica, and West Los Angeles, which have become popular magnets for campers seeking the comforts of coastal living. Boasting some of the most expensive real estate in the United States, these coastal cities have priced out most people from purchasing property in the vicinity of the bleach. However, living within blocks of the beach is still a possibility for the average person with an RV. This economic dichotomy has made Los Angeles one of the first cities to have to grapple with the desire of some of its residents to live on the streets full time, in their automobiles. Electric Avenue in Venice is one such street, with free parking available amongst the expensive new artist lofts; it is frequently occupied by up to half a dozen RVs each night.
The result of the influx has pitted the permanent Coastal residents, worried about the possible effect on property value and limited parking, against the mobile residents occupying the public space of the street. Cities have begun to clamp down on the campers, as Santa Monica recently did by implementing neighborhood-parking districts, making it illegal for non-residents to park in residential neighborhoods, and other laws requiring that cars not be parked in one location for more than 24 hours, all designed to crackdown on car camping. Part of the appeal of owning an RV is the ability to be home without having to be fixed to a particular place, the city is merely a stopping off point for this mobile population. As the popularity of RV living increases, and a larger segment of society begins living exclusively on the streets, the freedom that the street now enjoys as a public space may continue to be limited by cities searching to control its access and usage. The role of the street will be central to the debate about how cities are defined and controled within a more mobile populace, and as a larger segment of society will begins living exclusively on the streets, we will be facing new challenges of how to define the city outside the current real estate value driven system.