21 December 2015

So shall we turn unutilized space into infrastructure?

In the USA, professors and graduate students often pin interesting cartoons clipped from newspapers on their doors.  There was a particularly interesting one on the door of a professor who taught Development Sociology.  The cartoonist had a father and son staring at a vast territory of rocks and canyons.  There weren’t any trees.  And this was the caption: ‘Someday son, all this will be infrastructure’. 

The world has seen that happen.  The old saying ‘give some women an inch and they’ll turn it into a bikini’ can be twisted to explain the modern thrust to construct: give some people an inch and they’ll build something on it.  Square inch, that is. 

We live in a throw-away society, we are sometimes told.  This is true of course.  It is also true that we are a society of fillers.  We can’t stand to see unutilized space.   We need to fill it up.  We can’t have large (or small) drawing rooms that are sparsely furnished.  Even if we hardly ever entertain dozens of people, we have to have dozens of chairs.  Walls need pictures.  Paintings and family photographs.  Every square inch left uncovered leaves a bad taste in the mouth.

Ok, I am being extreme here.  But there is a sense that ‘more is better’ and ‘less is poorer’ in an arithmetic  that does not necessarily yield an aesthetically (or indeed practically) accurate ‘solution’. 

What if unutilized space was taxed, have you ever wondered?  And if so what would you do if you didn’t have the bucks to fill your drawing room with furniture and your walls with painting, and lay down wall-to-wall carpeting?  What would you do with exercise books with empty pages?  And how about the air?  Would we have to fill it with music or light?  Would darkness be considered legitimate filling?  How about smoke? Would that be ok?  Would bad odours warrant a penalty?  And how about pots, pans, plates, dishes and glasses? Would such a tax in effect prohibit consumption because the more we eat the more spaces we create?  And what would the poor do with empty stomachs?  And politicians with empty heads, where do they turn for solace?    

Yes, again we’ve strayed to the extreme, the ridiculous.  And yet isn’t it towards clutter that we move, rather than, say, un-cluttering?

Here’s something to read:


Does it make any sense?  Let’s break it apart: “…let there be spaces in your togetherness,
and let the winds of the heavens dance between you.”  That’s Kahlil Gibran meditating on ‘marriage’.  We need air, don’t we?  Without it there cannot be fire.   And it’s not just about marriage or any other relationship.  It is space that turns into characters what would otherwise be scrawls, space that turns words into coherent sentences, space that allows us to breathe and therefore experience the magic of breathlessness. 

If there was no silence, would there be music?  If there was no white, would black stand out as word and line?  If trees were all tightly linked, would we ever get to enjoy a stroll in the jungle? 

Space.  It’s everywhere.  They’ve not yet taxed it.  They’ve not yet turned it into something tradable.  Maybe that’s why we don’t see it.  Maybe that’s why it is so underrated.  It’s like air.  We breathe it all the time but we rarely acknowledge its presence, forget that it gives us life.  Space is like that.  Precious. Waiting to be turned into infrastructure, right?