Saturday, April 9, 2011

PHENOMENAL COSMIC POWER... itty bitty living space

I realized that I missed my "How the Other Half Lives" blog, and wanted to share something that a friend of mine from Japan recently showed me.  They're called capsule hotels-- google it if you don't believe me.  There are just plenty of pictures.  They're unbelievable space savers, able to fit enormous amounts of people into absolutely miniature spaces.  It's such a compelling part of Japanese culture to me, that a nation should be so successful but be just inherently limited by the simple, unconquerable force of geography.

Now, a lot of the blogs and articles I read about this were of people telling about the night they spent in a capsule hotel, just to see what it was like.  But this New York Times article talks about unemployed men and women that stay in capsules every night out of necessity.  Apparently they were originally built with the intent of housing workers who had been drinking and missed the last train home (quite a significant population, apparently), but have now become refuges for the unemployed and homeless, who keep their belongings in tiny suitcases and rent the capsules for far less than it would cost to keep an apartment in Tokyo.

That part really got me, that these were never intended to be housing for the desperate.  The recession forced many our of their homes, and this was really the only option for staying in the city.  I linked this instantly to the tenement houses in Riss' work and was reminded of the absurdly cramped living conditions that families struggled with every day.  We certainly saw it in Maggie; she and her family live cramped up against hundreds of other families in the filthy tenements.  What boggles my mind about both these situations is the extreme lengths that people will go to in order to stay in the cities.  I know Riis mentions that this is centered on the ethnic and cultural communities that formed, and also in both situations for the jobs available in the cities.  But could this really be it?  I can't personally imagine getting by in such an extremely limited space.  I guess I'm just missing that extra factor that's keeping people in the cities from moving away to the countryside, or at least the suburbs.  Does anyone have any thoughts on this?

And I guess, to move it into my own life, some of our living spaces here at Colby can be rather cramped as well.  Now, it's nothing like the capsule housing or tenements, but there was nothing spacious about my freshman year double.  We could certainly choose to live off campus in a house, and in many cases it would be almost more affordable, but most of us choose not too.  My reasoning, and I know the reasons of my friends as well, centers around the desire to be in the social scene, to be constantly surrounded by the people I love and in the middle of all the absurdity and fun that can be Colby College's social scene.  Maybe that's what keeps people in cities as well, that desire to stay close to the people and places they are comfortable with.  Even if that means suffering through the most uncomfortable living.

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