LIVING WITH LESS

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by Candice Nembhard

I have always been fascinated by the dynamics of space; how we utilise it, what we decide to fill it with and what our own space says about us. If we think globally about ‘space’, its conception works in tandem with a few other fundamental principles of our existence; time, energy and space work in accordance with each other allowing us to exist, perceive and theorise.

‘Space’ is the vehicle in which all is conceived and as far as I’m concerned, its limits are theoretically endless. Despite its global freedom, the limits of ‘space’ at ground level appear all too present. The economy, bureaucracy and job markets have all in some way influenced the limits of physical space. One need only look at the unlikelihood of Generation Y being able to own their own property, resulting in mass numbers of people claiming residence in rentals, sublets, and flatshares resulting in a life of temporary accommodation in temporary space.

Drawing upon my own experience, I can think clearly of my last four years in rented space. (Three in the UK and my fourth here in Berlin). Each house, apartment and room has accommodated different sizes, different smells and to a certain extent, a different attitude. Although brief, the experience has well equipped me with the social and legal aspects of space. What do I legally lay claim to and what do I socially have ownership over? Although there is a fine line between the two, I have learnt to see myself and space as a working relationship. In a sense, I’m intrigued about what I want from my space and what the space asks of me.

Primarily my relationship with space has been one of financial interest, in lieu of western values placed on property and land. (For example, if I inhabit a 15sqm room and it costs £800, my expectations and attitude towards the space would be vastly different to a 40sqm apartment that only costs £450). This line of thinking could be aptly summarised as ‘the bigger the space, the higher the value’. What this results in however, is a value system that now favours the expansion and creative use of smaller spaces into multi-functional rooms.

Although smart and somewhat inventive, these conversions or renovations initially cost more, but are built with intentions to save money. Suburbs of Paris, Barcelona and London are no stranger to these multi-purpose and practical living spaces. Whereas one sees the merit in these initiatives, the space/value system has contributed greatly to the ostracising and alienation of young potential property buyers; thus making  greater space difficult to acquire without significant start-up money. (Bearing in mind, most graduates leave university with a significant debt behind them). This is all too clear in locations such as Brooklyn, Peckham, Neukölln and Belleville; all of which have succumbed to the growing phenomenon of gentrification.

Gentrification is no secret and neither is the support for its implementation. Sways of investments into local, working class areas, often by overseas companies, have been vocally challenged in lieu of rising property prices and increasing homelessness among metropolitan cities and of course national wages and taxes. Cities such as Berlin have responded to such concerns by invoking city-wide localized rent caps as well dissuading services such as holiday rentals and Airbnb.

In effect, these counter attempts are touching upon the importance of affordable, if not public space. It is not without utmost concern that we speak on spaces that were once community based/initiated, now purposed for inhabitable housing, hotels or office spaces. Should legality be called into question, the relationship between space and those that inhabit or curate it, is irrevocably damaged changing attitudes of how one should treat space and what space should be used for.  

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Picture: Alex Lentati

In the case of London’s Brixton Arches and its Latinx Quarter community in Elephant and Castle, concerns grow for spatial value over people and their needs. Brixton and surrounding areas of Dulwich and Deptford were previously homes to black and Asian immigrants; historically viewed as Britain’s poorest. These spaces purposefully orchestrated to accommodate and house the wave of people looking to work in Britain were publically viewed and vilified as dangerous. This in effect earmarked areas that housed ethnic minorities as ‘no-go zones’.

In this case space was used to racially divide and influence social stigma. In truth, these communities brought with them vibrant and influential foods, languages and customs that have since been indoctrinated into the British ethos. Today, they are still homes to these communities but are increasingly populated with young students, artists and working professionals. Although this bridges the divide between race and class, the influx of young working people brings with it future problems in housing markets. ‘Space’ now takes on the responsibility of becoming a social and cultural investment.

I guess like any other recent graduate, my interest in space is not only to serve and influence my academic, personal and creative work, but to literally accommodate everything I am and do. Although I do not have the pleasure or bravery to squat and demand that a space be mine, nor do I have significant funds to purchase my own space, in a strange and sad way, Generation Y have subconsciously become well adjusted to the temporary nature of space, as well culture, money and interest. As a result, we have somehow decided to liberate ourselves by refusing to be confined to space and instead utilised its short lived nature.

Case in point is my recent move to Berlin.Not simply for the fun of it, the decision to move came with an intent to maximise the space left available to me. Furthermore, it came with the opportunity of learning to live with less and therefore get the best potential out of different sized spaces.

I am fully aware of the irony that I too am columbusing space and in part am contributing to the gentrification of space. I am one of many young Britons moving to the continent in search of a ‘better life’, job and tenure in tow. Be it cheaper rent or avoiding the repercussions of Brexit; like any flaneur or expat, I have had to move into a new space to effectively write about my previous one.

My value in this newly inhabited space is that I can creatively and financially explore new limits; enriching myself and those I encounter. This in itself is a privilege, having a British passport and being university educated. I am lucky enough that my birthright has given me an almost unlimited access to numerous spaces, but should this be the case?

I guess my thinking lies within a small query – the borders of space and universally imposed manmade barriers/geopolitical locations. France’s ‘The Jungle’, South East London Housing Co-operatives and squats in East Bloc Berlin are cases in point. How do we open up space, without exposing it to manipulation and exploitive means? Furthermore, as inhibitors of a universal space. do we have a duty to share it with others for the greater good?

Even as I write this alone, I am aware of the importance of community and social initiatives. As I define my own space, I am learning to see the overlap between them all and really call into question what is mine and what is ours.

Featured image: REUTERS

 

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