What will everyone think if I live in a matchbox?


Are we able to adapt to smaller spaces within which to live in the USA, or do we need our space as a sign of our prosperity, status or other social norm? Or are we worried, that building smaller, more dense housing, will bring chaos to our pristine neighborhoods?

I was born in South Africa and learnt that a house could be anything from a “hut”, a “shanty”, or a mansion. But those were my social norms. Housing density was definitely associated with not being able to afford a bigger home.

However, as my mother came from Denmark, I noticed there was much less of a link between “space” as a measure of wealth, and actual “wealth”. The Danes focused more on effective, logical use of space, which was “hip”, and beautiful. The society, also ensured that taxes which could be up to 70% of ones income, paid for everyone to have access to housing, healthcare and financial aid. Their houses were small and efficient.

Take for example a shower: It was a just a “space” large enough so that you could stand in, at one end of the bathroom.  The removable spray head was designed such that you could aim at your body, whilst you stood with the back to the corner of a tiled wall. The water then ran down the tiles, collected on the floor, which slanted towards the drain, located on the bathroom floor. There were no shower walls which took up space.


Space became “smart space” and walls, wasted space.

Small is becoming “hip” and creative designs for micro-houses like tumbleweed, are a delight to explore. However, if small was the only piece of the puzzle, we likely could have fixed this challenge by now.


So, what is driving our need to continue to build large square footage houses instead of creating smaller spaces?

As long as there is a demand for larger homes, and developers of residential housing have profit, through the endeavor, this will be our “norm”. But perhaps, it is our fear of what the change will look like, with low income, section 8 voucher holders and aPodments on the same block as  “my beautiful craftsman house”?

Neighborhood activists successfully managed to put an end to “aPodments“, by Calhoun Properties. People feared parking challenges, how many people would move in, and also “who” moved in. Affordable, was not something that everyone in upscale neighborhoods wanted to deal with.

People do respond remarkably well to new norms, when “smaller” is presented as socially acceptable, hip, or beautiful when created through creative architectural design. Yet interestingly when presented with the same options, framed in the concept of affordable housing, or a solution to housing density, we tend to kick against the very same idea.

All our solutions for creating affordable, density of housing exist.

However, people living in nicer neighborhoods, paying taxes for the schools in these ares with lower crime rates, definitely are not open to Section 8 voucher holders, or low income supported families, moving into the same areas. Obama’s 2015 plans to use HUD to help put an end to such “segregation” was met with much resistance by the public.

Perhaps it is more our ability to embrace these solutions in a manner which creates the perceptions that are acceptable, palatable and even “hip”.

Living in a beautiful matchbox, with smarter creativity of its space, and the definite consideration to less walls, is likely to be another step toward solving a housing crisis.

What we have not yet seen is beautiful designs, exquisite websites and gorgeous architectural design partnered with “housing density”, in such a manner, that we all get up and say…” I want to piece of that!”

South Africans certainly did not see a sudden influx of high and low income families living together on the same “block” post 1993, when President Nelson Mandela came to power.

Interestingly, our fears of what will occur when low income houses/affordable housing is intertwined within higher income housing, do not suddenly come to pass.

Change is needed to provide safe affordable housing to those that are desperately in need of a roof over their heads. Solutions, which are palatable do exist. Creativity, beauty and affordability, can all co-exist. Our ability to move forward, will depend on our willingness to focus clearly on how we would like the solutions to look like.

In fact, housing density, coupled with massive economic and population growth, is exactly what Singapore, walked through from the 1960’s through mid 1980’s. Today more than 90% of inhabitants own their own home and poverty/slums have been virtually eradicated. Housing policy was at the heart of the foresight which brought the city from a shanty town to a strong economic powerhouse.

We certainly can build small, beautiful, and affordable. We just have to want to do it.




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