Visitors to Canada often remark that there are “no people anywhere”. That’s not just a comment on our low population density. It’s also a consumerist trend that we may not even notice until it’s pointed out to us: doing things from “the comfort of our own home”.

Perhaps, this ode to shared spaces is inspired by my friend’s recent purchase of a massage chair, allowing her to get a massage without leaving her home, or involving other people. Perhaps, it’s the number of unused workout rooms in people’s homes or – worse – the dark, wood-paneled, brass-accented “bar” that haunts the basements of 1970’s bungalows. Maybe it’s just the holidays coming up, when our world gets flooded with offers of yet one more thing we can get for our very own, so we don’t have to… God forbid… SHARE.

Maybe it’s just the holidays coming up, when our world gets flooded with offers of yet one more thing we can get for our very own, so we don’t have to… God forbid… SHARE.

12 things that are better shared

Coffee shops.

Remember the last time you were traveling in a strange city? Walking into a coffee shop full of strangers, you did not feel alone. Even in our own cities, we sometimes feel lonely. Will your home cappuccino machine ever be as good as the Italian coffeeshop down the street? What about that elusive dream of having the barista ask if you want “your regular”?

Gyms and music.

There are studies that prove that when we exercise with other people, when we do anything active with others, we enjoy it more and we get into a rhythm that keeps us going longer (get your minds out of the gutter). Ever notice that you enjoy live music more than recorded music? Is it partly because other people’s enjoyment of it is infectious? If you don’t believe me, try dancing in your living room for half as long as you used to dance at the bar.

Libraries, art studios and makerspaces.

When I borrow a book and notice a few faint pencil marks on the margins, I feel suddenly connected to another oddball with the same taste as me, who loved this book and had these same feelings as they thumbed through the pages. Speaking of oddballs. Artists famously get inspired by other artists. Did you know that Matisse and Picasso both achieved greatness because of a direct competition with each other? How cool would it be to share your artsy passion with some other people who totally get it? Or be able to walk up to someone and borrow a woodworking tool you don’t have?

Playgrounds, parks, and swimming pools.

Your backyard picnic will never be as spontaneous as a picnic in the park. Children feel the same way. We got a backyard play structure as a gift, which was supposed to “replace” our need for the community playground during the pandemic. My kids used it a handful of times. Seems, the only fun thing about a playground is other kids to play with. The result? Two empty playgrounds. Surrounded by a sea of empty backyard  swimming pools. Almost as sad as that pun.

Restaurants.

I went to the neighbourhood Mexican place the other day, the one that was long-awaited by the whole Ottawa community as we followed the story of this family saving up money, searching for a suitable place, redecorating, hiring staff. They opened right before the pandemic started. No, no, they are still ok, but like most restaurants at the time, they did switch to delivery-only mode. Now, during my in-person visit, the place was full of couples, families, and groups of students attracted by the succulent taco selection. The owner served our meal with visible pleasure, and I thought, what if his contact with customers was cut off? Would he find this business as satisfying, worth the wait and the fight, if it were just a kitchen pumping out plastic bags of tacos to anonymous delivery drivers at the door? I’ve worked in a restaurant myself before and I always loved the feeling that people came in hungry and left satisfied. It kept me motivated. With the ultra-thin margins and high leases, take away that feeling, and would we still have restaurants?

Lakes.

It may be too late for this one, but in Canada, land of lakes, why are so many lakes private? In Quebec especially, there seems to be a pattern of selling off all property surrounding a lake so that only cottage owners would be able to access it. These properties may have seemed really cheap and plentiful at the time, but today, buying a lakeside property is the only way to access thousands of lakes in Quebec. And prices have shot up, so new generations or newcomers to the country are finding themselves all dressed up (in lifejackets and swimsuits) with no place to go.

Bars.

“Come here often?”, say you to your husband of 35 years as you descend into the bowels of your home to the well-stocked bar in your basement rec room. He made an effort this time and put on a shirt. Your high heels are gripping the carpet nicely. Smooth jazz plays as the headlights of a passing car flicker in the tiny window. “Shall we invite the neighbours?”

Shared spaces are dying

In all seriousness, though.

In my neighbourhood, there are three childrens’ playgrounds, one public swimming pool, one library, two coffeeshops, two bars, three gyms, seventeen restaurants serving various ethnic cuisines, and a walking trail.

I love them all. And yet, I feel they are under threat from the “comfort of your own home” mentality.

Don’t get me wrong… I love my home too. But what I don’t love is the compulsion in our society of replacing public amenities with private ones, so we don’t have to leave home or encounter other people. The reason we are able to do this, is, of course, extra space.

Tiny home dwellers often say, “You don’t have to own everything”.

Tiny home dwellers often say, “You don’t have to own everything”. When you’ve taken your private living space down to a minimum, it doesn’t mean that you’ve minimized your interests and passions as well. It really means that many things that conventional-home people do at home, tiny home dwellers do outside the home. Working at coffeeshop tables, borrowing books from the library, doing yoga at the studio and crafting at a shared makerspace.

If pandemic lockdowns taught us anything about ourselves, it’s that, when we have to be “in the comfort of our own homes” for weeks on end, we wilt and wither and acquire mental health issues. So, why are we ok with the gradual loss of public places and the shared pleasures they offer?

If you want to talk about it, I’ll be at the bar.

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