How We Live, Where We Live, & Why
A fleeting thought yesterday about the effects of the digital revolution on our living spaces brought me back to a social sciences class in University that made quite an impression on me. During one particularly impassioned speech, my professor—a wonderfully forward-thinking woman—gave a searing indictment of how the industrial revolution changed everything from how we live to where we live. In particular, how most of us went from being farmers to city folks practically overnight.
This change in homestead had profound effects on us. We (mostly) stopped growing our own food, Dad went to work and Mom was relegated to household duties; the balance of power tipped and, along with it, so did our ability to afford large plots of land and generous housing accommodations. Apartment living was born, skyscrapers introduced, and with it came a completely different way of life.
These changes, though now normal to almost all of us, happened rapidly at the time. So I began to wonder about the tech boom of the 80s and 90s. How have our homes changed, how have we changed, if at all, as a result?
FIRST CLASS HOUSING PROJECTS
In white-collar cities all over North America, the tech boom has gone from being the creator of real estate wealth and opportunities to a major contributor of a housing SOS. In markets like Vancouver, even those with salaries that are normally considered well within the top echelon are having a hard time buying a one-bedroom condo. A recent New Yorker article illustrated that the largely upper class city of Palo Alto in California has just moved to investigate subsidized housing for families earning between $150,000-$250,000 a year. It seems absurd, but no one can argue that the cost of living in cities is becoming harder and harder to maintain.
The high cost of living aside, it has not slowed down the rise of the single dweller created by our modern society. Technology plugs us in so we feel more confident bowing out of living with others. To put it another way, for the first time in Canadian history, one-person households outnumber households that have couples with children.
An article published a couple of years ago in the Globe reported that 27.6% of Canadian homes have only one occupant—a number that was a mere 7.4% in 1951—a huge change in the time span of just over 60 years. That makes 3,673,305 single-occupancy households in Canada, a trend that is also seen in Europe and the US. Not surprisingly, it has also changed the size of our dwellings. From one bedroom apartments and condos to studios, and now, micro units, this demographic is attracted to blossoming urban areas like Yaletown and Gastown. Hubs for younger singles and professionals, these neighbourhoods have no shortage of amenities, shopping, and lots of “self-improvement” facilities like gyms, personal training and stylists. Forget milking the cows, baling hay and child rearing; it’s all about mani-pedi’s and day spas in these flashy parts of the city.
FROM HUT TO FARM TO, WELL…250 SQUARE FEET
There’s no doubt that our modern times have produced a great many advantages. Living in an urbanized area, whatever the size of your abode, means great access to necessities like doctors, dentists, good health care and a vast social network. As wifi signals bounce around above us we have the advantage of staying in touch across vast distances–perhaps curtailing some of our need for human contact. On the other hand, small dwelling size and living alone has been shown to produce feelings of loneliness and isolation in certain people.
A terrific animation from The Atlantic takes us on a virtual tour of housing through the ages. As you watch photos of the straw and earth cob houses morph into printed homes, the true scale of our digital and engineering capabilities begins to dawn on you. Though, unlike my former professor, this mortgage broker is still undecided on what the implications of it all will truly mean going ahead.