Saturday 20 February 2016

Living small

When we were young and foolish, The Beloved and I shared a home in the very centre of Dublin which was just under 6 sq.m in size. It was fine, very convenient for work and had no room for clutter. A couple of years ago in Ireland, it was made illegal to rent such 'bed-sitting rooms' as they had been deemed unfit for human habitation. Everyone must have their own personal flush-toilet; so that Irish Water the controversial water treatment quango has a reason for its existence. Irish agencies define "poverty" as having an income smaller than 60% of the median income of people at work in the country.  The median is that income of which half the people earn less and half earn more. This is much less than the average/mean income which is dragged upwards by the 1% of pop stars, CEOs and financial traders who are 'earning' more than €500,000. It was reported in the Irish Times 19Dec15 that EirGrid, the network rump of the old Electricity Supply Board, is paying 83 of its staffers more that €100K: "very highly qualified and need specialist skills and years of experience" they are. Poverty in Ireland means, according to Combat Poverty doing the math, living on less than €208/wk.  The World Bank notes that about 900 million people are living on less than $1.90 a day which is about 1/15th of Poverty, Irish Style. Housing minima are similarly defined in 1st World terms: you've got to have room for a flat screen TV, a separate bed for everyone in the household, a separate bathroom and kitchen, it must also be wheelchair accessible. Even the poorest are expected to contribute to the economy by acquiring stuff.

Here's a solution for the student accommodation crisis in Lund, Sweden: living in a well-appointed garden shed.  It's got a loft -bedroom: rather better fitted than the one I created in a corner of a rather larger bed-sit [15 sq.m!] we three lived in after The Boy was born. Our bedroom was exactly the size (2.4m x 1.2m) of a sheet of plastic laminated chipboard which was donated by the brother of one of our friends: the rest of the timber I sourced out of dumpsters. I can't imagine why I thought re-appointing the property in this way would meet with the approval of the landlord. Because Sweden is an inclusive (no child left behind etc.) society they don't want any of their people living in rat-infested shanties and to ensure this laudable aim they have written building codes and zoning laws. Confronted with the reality of not enough housing or students, De Man is seriously conflicted about lowering standards.  I'd love to live Lund-student style again, we have six 6! frying pans in our kitchen now.

Here's another piece to camera comparing the restrictive zoning laws of Washington DC with the free and easy libertarian "you rights end where my nose begins" planning in Houston and Victoria, Texas. In DC you can own a micro-house but you can't live in it and it really should be on wheels for a quick getaway if the zoning officer decides to leave his comfy office and hunt out people who eschew the stuff-laden lifestyle of their neighbours.

"People are living in poverty if their income and resources (material, cultural and social) are so inadequate as to preclude them from having a standard of living which is regarded as acceptable by Irish society generally. As a result of inadequate income and other resources people may be excluded and marginalised from participating in activities which are considered the norm for other people in society."  If Irish society generally is bamboozled by advertising and envy into filling their homes with tawdry tat and trivia - computers and smart-phones; microwaves and electric carving knives, plastic cutlery and card-board plates because the dishwasher is broken again - then the definition of poverty clambers higher on the bones of a destroyed planet.

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