What's So Wrong With Living In a Tent Down By the River?S

The way we live now: In tents pitched under urban bridges that border toxic rivers in communities run by tribal chiefs, just like on Survivor or something. Doesn't that sound so enticing?

The New York Times' Dan Barry travels all over the country seeking out obscure existences to write about in his "This Land" column for the paper. This week he visited a tent city in Providence, Rhode Island that's home to roughly 80 people, a community formed back in early April with two couples pitching tents under a bridge next to the Providence River. Since then their ranks have slowly swelled as more and more people, stereotypical homeless sorts as well as down-on-their-luck locals (Rhode Island's unemployment rate is quite high), have heard about the gathering and sought it out as a place of refuge. The members of the community have formed a quasi-government to oversee things, with a "chief" and five-member leadership council installed as leaders. Here's how Barry poetically describes the scene:

Here in the center are a cluster of couples, including two competing for the nicest property, with homey touches like planted flowers. Here too are the food table, the coolers, the piles of donated clothes - what can't be used will be taken by camp residents to the Salvation Army - and the large tent of the chief. Plastic pink flamingos stand guard.

Farther on, the recycled-can area (the money is used for ice and propane); the area for garbage bags that will be discreetly dropped in nearby Dumpsters at night; and, behind a blue tarp hung from the overpass, a plastic toilet. The chief says the shared task of removing the bags of waste tends to test the compact.

Finally, near some rocks where men go to urinate, live a gay couple and some people who drink hard. Timothy Webb, 49, who says he used to own a salon in Cranston called Class Act, cuts people's hair here. Then, at night, he and his partner, Norman Trank, 45, sit at a riverside table, a battery-operated candle giving light, the moving waters suggesting mystery.

"It's what you make of it," Mr. Trank says.

Doesn't Dan Barry make living in a tent under a bridge sound so lovely? And there's nothing "snarky" in that comment—his piece does a good job of romanticizing a "simpler" existence. Let's all move there!

Living in Tents, and By Rules, Under a Bridge [New York Times]