Friday, December 19, 2014

Per Capita Davis: Living small


From page A4 | February 21, 2013 |

For your reading pleasure (I hope), a bunch of small items sent in by readers or culled from various news sources over the last little while.

Small is beautiful (in the eye of the beholder): What do you do if you live in a city that’s surrounded on all sides either by other cities or bodies of water that make it impossible to grow outwards? San Francisco has such a problem, and has been growing vertically, but home prices and apartment rents are still sky-high (pun intended).

The S.F. Board of Supervisors recently OK’d what are reported to be “the nation’s tiniest apartments.” Not content with the old minimum requirement of 290 square feet (that would be 14.5-feet-by-20 feet including kitchen, bathroom and storage space), the supervisors reduced it to 220 square feet (just under 15-by-15). The intent is to lower the cost for a studio apartment from an average of $2,000 down to less than $1,500.

Seems like progress, right? But tenants rights advocates call these “shoebox apartments” and complain that these may be OK for single people but don’t do anything positive for families.

The Big Apple gets smaller: Pointing out that there are nearly 2 million one- and two-person households in the city, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has launched a competition to design buildings with mostly “micro studios” no larger than 300 square feet, including a kitchen, bathroom (with a tub) and a view to the outside (the real outside, not an air shaft). Bloomberg offers the winner the right to build at no charge on a city-owned property in lower Manhattan currently being used as a parking lot.

Going vertical: Davis is a flat city where a three-story home seems giant. Even apartment buildings seem to have some strange natural restriction on height, as if gravity itself places a ceiling over where we live. Breaking through this psychological barrier will be an important part of implementation of the city Climate Action Plan to prevent sprawl, increase density (along with the amenities density can provide — think small café in the neighborhood park), and making it possible to obtain most of what we need in our daily lives via (at most) a 10 minute walk.

News heights in the north: Some innovators up north (think Oregon) are emphasizing the “up” in “start-up” by offering a variety of tree houses to increase living space. There are the usual models — such as the Playhouse, Fortress and Sleeper — aimed more at children but they also produce a Pavilion billed as a “covered retreat for playing, dining, sightseeing, mediation, yoga or your favorite outdoor activity.”

I don’t know about the sightseeing part — the neighbors may not like that so much. But, more to the point in terms of potentially reducing energy usage, they offer an Office model for those who want to work at home. It comes with clerestory windows and other natural lighting features. If you’re interested (and have a tall tree with a suitably straight trunk) you can find more information at

Way out of the box: Dennis Frenchman, an architect and professor of urban planning at MIT, looks at a global population in excess of 9 billion by 2060 and says city planners need to get busy with some really dramatic changes to the buildings we live and work in, as well as how we get back and forth between the two.

Some ideas for the future stretch the concepts of urban density and mixed use. For example, reducing space now used for parking vehicles through creation of a fleet of community-shared electric cars for local trips; the cars able to fold up and stack together when not in use. Or, a “flat tower” that spreads horizontally more than vertically, like an umbrella, with housing for up to 40,000 people. Underneath would be a rail/transit line, recreation facilities, green spaces and all the commercial amenities anyone might need.

For his part, and consistent with the “small is beautiful (in the eye of the beholder)” theme of this column, Frenchman postulates that average apartment size will be about 300 square feet but will not feel cramped because much of the furniture will fold out of walls and what we now consider windows will be convertible to television screens (don’t want to give up that big screen).

An interesting consequence of all these proposals, both real and as imagined by futurists, is the impact they might have on consumption. With living spaces that small, there just won’t be room for lots of “stuff.” Think about downsizing from a typical Davis home to something that is only about 300 square feet, with a combination bedroom/living room/dining room, very, very limited closet and cupboard space, limited wall and shelf space for books and art, and not much room for furniture. That would pretty dramatically limit the amount of personal belongings for the two or even three people living in that space.

And don’t even think about a yard — though the futurists postulate vertical farms that resemble gigantic Ferris wheels for local food production.

— John Mott-Smith is a resident of Davis living in a 2,100-square-foot home. This column is published on the first and third Thursdays of each month. Send comments to



John Mott-Smith

  • Recent Posts

  • Enter your email address to subscribe to this newspaper and receive notifications of new articles by email.

  • .


    UCD, UC team up to study effects of climate change

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A1 | Gallery

    Teens’ goal? Helping other soccer players around the world

    By Anne Ternus-Bellamy | From Page: A1 | Gallery

    There’s a plate for you at the Davis Holiday Meal

    By Dave Ryan | From Page: A1 | Gallery

    Police seek suspect in hit-and-run collision

    By Lauren Keene | From Page: A2

    Help sought in search for runaway Davis teen

    By Lauren Keene | From Page: A2

    Feds release ‘framework’ to rate colleges

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A2

    Gunfire leads to DUI arrest

    By Lauren Keene | From Page: A2

    Creative women share food, friendship

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

    Konditorei presents free holiday concert

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

    Welcome 2015 with Mumbo Gumbo at a gala bash

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

    Luminaria display planned in West Davis

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

    Sierra Club calendars on sale Saturday

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

    Willett bench is a labor of love

    By Jeff Hudson | From Page: A4

    Author! Author! UCD hosts talks, Q and A on Asia-focused books

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A4

    Blue Christmas service planned at Davis churches

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

    Libraries will be closed around the holidays

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A5

    See diving ducks at city wetlands tour

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A5 | Gallery

    Downtown gift cards get a new perk

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A6

    Meditation, Buddhism classes offered

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A7

    A home for the holidays?

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A8 | Gallery

    Nobel Prize winner will discuss research related to autism

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A8

    Traditional carols service is Saturday at St. Martin’s

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A9

    Explorit: Experience nano this spring

    By Lisa Justice | From Page: A9 | Gallery

    Supplies collected for victims of abuse

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A11

    Grandmothers support group meets weekly

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A11, 1 Comment

    Soup’s On will benefit NAMI-Yolo

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A11

    Donate to STEAC at Original Steve’s

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A11



    He needs them to pay up

    By Creators Syndicate | From Page: B5

    Kudos to Central Park Gardens donors and volunteers

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A14

    Tom Meyer cartoon

    By Debbie Davis | From Page: A14

    Cheers and Jeers: Have you ever seen the rain?

    By Our View | From Page: A14

    Defeating Ebola involves medicine, and prayers

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A14 | Gallery



    Cousins is back in lineup but Kings fall

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B1 | Gallery

    Devil boys hold off scrappy Rio Linda

    By Bruce Gallaudet | From Page: B1 | Gallery

    Lady Blue Devils rout an undefeated Liberty squad

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: B1

    UCD RB coach Wright heads to Florida; what next?

    By Bruce Gallaudet | From Page: B1

    Aggies nab junior college defensive lineman

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: B1

    Nostra-Dunning makes his college bowl picks

    By Bob Dunning | From Page: B2

    Tennyson’s first goal is the difference in Sharks win

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B6 | Gallery



    Name droppers: Trio elected to academy of inventors

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A11



    ‘Before Midnight’ screening is tonight

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A15

    DMTC plans New Year’s Eve party

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A15

    Tom Rigney and Flambeau to play

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A15

    DMTC announces auditions for ‘Sweeney Todd’

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A15



    After 19 years, Alfa Romeo returns

    By Ann M. Job | From Page: A16



    Rena Sylvia Smilkstein

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A6