The Obsession with Space

As an industrial designer and an eco conscious vegan I’m constantly concerned with our footprint and this directly relates to the space that we use. The space seems to become bigger all the time and we are using so much more than we need. This is making our cities, weaker, our spaces seem more crowded and it is expensive. Space is expensive, real estate is expensive, having a lot of anything is expensive and yet we are so obsessed with it. Why? Between the 1900’s and now there was suddenly a shift in what we believed we needed and we suddenly started collecting space like it was something real special.

Since the late 1900’s and now we are using 3 times more space than before, our dishes are 22% larger than they used to be, a small family now uses over 1000 square feet as opposed to under 600 previously. Not only that but people are getting married later, getting divorced sooner and many are living single longer, on top of that everyone is living longer. All these factors and we are still using much more than needed. Even young singles or professionals are using upwards of 600 square feet, when that use to host like a whole family. So what is the need for so much space, where did we decide that it was the norm to have more than what we need.

I understand wealth and wanting large houses as a manner of showing off, having multiple garages, maids, butlers and like 2 different wings to your house, however that is another subject all on it’s own. I’m talking about the average everyday person, somehow even the average families are living in spaces with an excessive amount of space. One of the biggest problems is that real estate doesn’t even support smaller, we are forced to buy larger spaces and it puts a lot of people in bad situations. Houses aren’t cheap, mortgages aren’t cheap, and although they used to be, they no longer are. There was an old book that taught how to diy a dream home for under 4000$, this was a basic family home suited for 3 or so people. Now understanding that money has changed over the years and value has differentiated a bit, that is still amazing that a home of such size could be constructed for such an ideal price, where now most homes are well over 200,000$.

This space phenomenon has also applied to cities, this is actually one of the biggest concern in space management and excess. We see things like urban sprawl becoming an acceptable norm, which isn’t okay, expanding cities so far out ad making them ultimately impossible to navigate without a vehicle is wrong. Suburbs are probably one of the worst concepts that have ever been birthed. The idea of creating individual sub cities within a larger space is just absolutely stupid. They are expensive, inconvenient, bland and boring, they are far from the necessities and everyone there is obligated to own a vehicle because no public transportation system can service all that. I personally choose to live either in or within walking distance to downtown. Most downtown cores have been designed with sufficient necessities for everyone. There are shops, restaurants and markets that allow all the necessary things to be provided. People have adapted the mindset that all the larger commercial brands and so forth are the ideal and this matches with urban sprawl. If you create a suburb you also create a grocery store, banks, restaurants and some stores, it is inevitable.

So not only do our homes get bigger but our cities expand to fit this demand, we create inconvenient cities and we create problems for the general people by distancing things so much. We are really disabling people and this is making our cities harder to enjoy. Who enjoys a gridlocked, busy city where you need to drive half an hour to get anything? They aren’t idea, people are drawn towards places where walking is possible, when the space is friendly and people want to move about and explore your city becomes a much happier place to reside. There are a few cities that have worked to make their area more “walkable” basing your city on walk score can really improve infrastructure. For example the city of Portland, Oregon has thinner streets, bike rentals, city transportation in many forms, local shops, designers, restaurants, bars, entertainment and so forth. Many young graduates and professionals choose to move here, it is an appealing city. Where most of the world is spending the majority of their income on cars and vehicle transportation, Portland is spending that amount on local shops and entertainment. People are drawn to Portland for it’s unique design and the fact that walking is acceptable, it is easier to explore and much healthier overall. If cities were to redesign based on walkability instead of commercial interest and suburbs then maybe their city would be more desirable.

For example I live in a city that is fairly walkable, however recent expansion has built multiple suburbs and the city has lost some of its charm. I still live in the downtown core, and overall the downtown is fairly walkable, you can access a variety of local shops, food, and grocery within walking distance, realistically I could never leave downtown and live perfectly fine. However our walk score is actually a 93 out of 100, pretty decent, compared to Portland which is a 98, both are described as a walker’s paradise. The daily errands and everything you could absolutely need is all within 20 minutes of walking. But this walk score applies strictly to the downtown area, if you were to evaluate other areas of the city they would be very low scores. It is near impossible to walk around the other areas of the city.

My city undergoes road improvements every year, the city is congested with construction all through the warm months and all this money is going towards infrastructure, but we are ignoring the walk score. What if this money was redirected? We could instead work on narrowing the downtown streets to better support pedestrian traffic, many of our roads are 4 lanes wide and all streets support angled parking, which together takes up a lot of space. Widen the sidewalks, erect more attractions in the downtown area and make the space somewhere where people want to stay, not just walk by. Adding pavilions, benches, green space and more beautiful space would increase our score. To add desire to the area we should support pedestrians, we are more likely to receive business if someone walks by and sees it as opposed to driving. Foot traffic is the easiest to attract and the city should work to help these local businesses thrive. This requires that the downtown core space is attractive, friendly but this also means that the businesses need to work to create attractive store fronts and spaces that people want to visit. Overall I would say the city is beautiful, filled with old limestone buildings, large windows and vintage shops, but many of them are dying slowly due to the lack of foot traffic anymore. When there are malls and people who live at opposite ends of the city, it is hard to attract them to the downtown core and keep people here.

Instead of space, and expansion we need to work on the appeal of space, there is plenty of space downtown but it isn’t always friendly. Let’s stop worrying so much about suburbs and that space, and instead work on beautifying the local space. Help make our businesses thrive, our downtown bustle with excited people, make the space beautiful and attract all types of people. It isn’t hard to add some better benches, a pavilion or some extra green space, so what is stopping us. I look around the downtown space daily and I see so much room for improvement, as one of a small population who loves this city and wants to stay here, I would like to see some changes to make the city more attractive, and help keep people here. We have a constant rotation of 17 thousand people coming into our university and instead of just being here for school we should give them a reason to stay, to see that the city is a great place to be and allows for all the things that people want, we should try to attract this educated young generation to help the city. Like Portland, where people want to move there, many young educated folks move there out of choice because it is appealing. With 17 thousand people we should try and create space that is welcoming and invites a more long term commitment to the city, with an inflow of young minds think of the innovations and possibilities. The inflow of ideas and new thinking is great and could benefit the city.

Overall we need to rethink space and how it is being used, stop supporting expansion and instead support beautification. Making space friendlier not bigger, making things attractive instead of spaced out. I would much rather a space where I can easily walk around and do my daily tasks instead of needing to waste money on gas and transportation. Many people now would much rather walk, bike or use public transport to counter the high price of gas. If our cities support that then it will draw more people. This same rule goes for homes and living, instead of making things bigger let’s make them more beautiful, more attractive, and more functional. I would much rather live in a smaller space that has great looks, functionality and is close to everything. Great spaces are easier to sell than big spaces. If you can offer the benefits of downtown living in beautiful space then why wouldn’t you? Selling people on the fact that they won’t need a vehicle and are close to everything seems so much better than explaining how far they will have to commute or the distance they are from everything.

So together let’s start to rethink space, let’s start to really think about how much we are using and for what. Let’s work on creating beautiful space instead of large open space. It is my belief that beauty and functionality will easily attract more than large open concrete space. Let’s focus on walk score, the pedestrians and the locals. There is still profit in creating friendly space, because you will be attracting a new wealthy crowd of people who are willing to pay to be in such an area. By working on our appearance we are attracting the right kinds of crowds and making the city more beautiful instead of more busy. By working on our appearance we are creating an appealing space where people want to be, what city doesn’t want to be the “in” thing, be popular with the young crowd and be attractive to everyone? It isn’t hard, let’s start making the shift today.

Once again thanks for reading and I hope you picked up some useful concepts.
Have an amazing day and keep reading for more ideas on space, beauty, simplicity and functionality.