Space is the new objective in our present day, North American culture. As Toronto fills up with millionaires and pushes working people asunder throughout the area around Lake Ontario, some brave enough to come as far as Peterborough, space has become the subject of discussion throughout many different communities. In my community space has always been a topic of fraught discussion. Money seems to only flow to bricks and mortar instead of people. That may be because construction and development have been the way urban centers pay for their growth. It’s an old model but the structures that give these businesses the access and power to rule have grown into almost monarch style fixtures on our financial landscape, so much so that one of their own occupies the White House.
Space however has become conceptual to many as their lives can exist through their laptop meaning that a coffee shop or a park can be a place for a business transaction. It can also be a studio or collaborative as more and more platforms allow creative people to interact online as well as in person. Many artists have turned to film and sound and music and photography or they film or record their art as a way to expand how they share what they are making – almost all can be done on a device of some sort.
But everyone who makes things needs a place to work. You need a place for your tools, a place to leave your unfinished thing so that you can sleep on how it’s going overnight, and a place you don’t need to tidy up because in fact the messy-ness can help you through a rough patch of configuring. If you write for a living you know you need quiet for great lengths of time. If you make noise you know you need to be a part from people who will complain. If you collaborate you need a place to meet. We can’t all take to the streets to figure our work out – we actually need professional places that can serve the things we are doing.
Business figured this out a long time ago and hence we have always had offices. Studios or work spaces are just as important. But buildings are not built for people, they are generally built because of investment money and the long chain of companies and individuals (who all have their own spaces) who stand to make a profit once that place is built. So, it’s never about a community or whether we need the building or not. It’s just a very pure financial transaction that only helps about ten people really. Sure there are lots of jobs and electricians and all sorts of working class heroics involved but really, at the end of the day ten people make enough money to retire, or buy a yacht or a space in some other exotic locale.
Of course there are many architects and developers who actually care and try their best to create places for people. However the ratio of them to those who don’t care is pretty lopsided. So, how do you change this? Laws. Laws that demand development take into account the nature of the community they are building in, laws that make spaces for all sorts of income levels and laws that protect creativity. “But laws will hinder investment and scare the money off!” Yes it will because we should only want the best kind of developments and the best kind of spaces. We shouldn’t compromise on our space.
People talk a lot about how we have to decolonize our culture and begin thinking differently about this and that. What we should also do is begin thinking about spaces and how they must resist the pursuit of maximized profit. Space is an area between each other – how we share it and use it helps us develop how we work with each other and eventually defines who we are and who we will become.