Rebranding the SRO
“Wan Rūmu Manshon” — that’s what they call an SRO in Japan. They are tiny, affordable rooms for singles who don’t need or want much more than a place to lay their heads. The name is not derived from Japanese words, but rather it’s the Japanization of the English phrase “One Room Mansion.”
In North America, SRO is an acronym meaning single room occupancy. It’s a clinical, descriptive, neutral term surely coined by some bureaucrat. The term’s neutrality has allowed additional identities to be layered on top of it, and many of those layers are not so savory. Today, the SRO is synonymous with poverty, unintentional transience, alcoholism, drug addiction, decrepitude, prostitution and so forth.
As I expressed the other day, the SRO was once a vital part of our urban housing landscape — and it can, and must, be one once again. But before that happens, the term needs to shed its cultural baggage.
The SRO needs a rebrand.
The rebrand needs to connote something inherently attractive and aspirational. Its brand needs to be untarnishable like the Wan Rūmu Manshon. It needs to be synonymous with an urban existence filled with rich experiences, cross-cultural pollination, low footprint living, simplicity, joy, economic and spiritual freedom, romance, friends — all the ontological benefits I believe the basic architectural unit supports.
I am not a branding or design expert, nor do I have a budget for fancy pictures or typographical wizardry. But these mockup ads give you some idea of the possibilities for a rebranded SRO. Hit me up if you can improve upon the concept.
The reintroduction and re-institutionalization of the SRO is one of the most important things we can do to bring affordable housing back to our cities at scale. But first we need to change hearts and minds, untangling what SROs have become from what they can be.
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