Enjoying life, off the hamster wheel
I’m not sure if there was a Habitat Forum preceding the one in Vancouver or not. In any event, in the 1967, Moshe Safdie (he designed the Vancouver Public Library which was very contraversial design, built in 1994, I think) designed the experimental Habitat dwellings in Montreal. They have become a model for contemporary urban living, and are apparently very nice to live in. I found a good website on them: Habitat ’67.
Certainly, there are pockets of successful urban living throughout the world, but density brings with it its own problems. Massive Change curated by Bruce Mau, was a very unusual art exhibit at the Vancouver Art Gallery a few years ago. It skimmed over these problems in an attempt to highlight the benefits of new materials and technologies. The accompanying book’s back jacket reads: “Massive Change is not about the world of design, it’s about the design of the world.” I won’t go into a critique of the exhibit, but I think the book gives a good idea of what it was about, and the overall sense of the show. Everything from toilets to flooring design was covered, even recyclable alternative styrofoam made from potatoes, if memory serves.
Writing about this, thinking of the WUF III forum and Habitat ’76 has made me question a few things. We must continually ask ourselves, how do we design the environments we inhabit, and how do those designs evolve and change over time? What are we using to design these spaces? What can we do to ensure sustainability of our resources and natural environments over the long term, not just 50 years, but 250 years? That’s a lot to think about, and it’s daunting. But is it so hard? If we make small changes to our lifestyles by modifying some of out habits, we could collectively (through individual action) slow down some of the destructive consequences of our habits. I’m trying to remember to bring my own bags to the grocery store. I’m amazed at how many plastic bags we collect! Is it necessary to get a new plastic bag every time you go shopping? Sometimes I remember to bring a wheeled box I have and I use that instead of bags. I’m really proud of myself when I remember, because I am otherwise a very absent minded person. Eventually, I’d like to remember to keep some fabric bags with me at all times, for those frequent spontaneous trips to the store. It almost seems like my habit that needs modifying isn’t the habit of bringing plastic bags, but the habit of remembering!
Another habit that needs to be broken, that developed societies seem to share, is the habit of producing and accumulating “stuff”. Today I was in a dollar store. It was a very nice dollar store – okay, not a “dollar” store, but a two-dollar store. Everything for $2. It was clean, organized, nicely displayed… but… How many small plastic containers, or plastic binders or plastic toys, or plastic flowers – the list goes on – do we need? Nic-nacs, and home décor, baskets and wreaths, boxes and wrapping paper… on and on it goes. I’d like to know why we can’t make do with what we have. What is it about us that drives us to get the newest and the latest design, colour, material? I’m guilty of this. And when I think about, say, arborite counter tops that make it to the land fill after a home renovation, or maybe it’s old fiberglass insulation, or meters and meters of plastic drop cloths used for painting, I just feel helpless. We’ve created this perpetual motion machine, and that machine is called consumption, and no one wants to interrupt it.
As I sit here writing this, I can hear the traffic outside. We’re several blocks from Columbia Street, a busy, truck congested thoroughfare. It sounds like a freeway. Sometimes you can hear speeding cars revving past, sometimes sirens, most often the sound of semis gearing down or speeding up. It’s like the sound of wind, only amplified, mechanized and unrelenting. I’ve hung chimes out on our balcony, and when they play in the breeze they’re a welcome reprieve from the din of the city. The trains are moving right now, a crow has just called out and the rest of the birds are falling silent in the descending dusk.
I just opened my Massive Change book to the following page. It was a random selection, but very poignant. Here’s what the caption reads: “Personal freedom: The world hasn’t embraced secular democracy, but it has embraced traffic. The radical success of the car has brought about its failure. Personal mobility projects are under way worldwide to deliver maximum freedom with minimal impact.” I’d love to buy a hybrid, or better yet an electric car (made right here in Vancouver: Dynasty Electric Car Corp ).
Well, I’ll keep dreaming, and think of ways to try to reduce my own footprint on the Earth. I’m not successful right now, I know this, and I have a lot of readjusting to do. Maybe you’ll join me? Every small bit helps, some way, some how.
Thanks for reading.
Looking at the puddle and thinking.