Ben Bartosik

July 8, 2024

Caught an old podcast interview on the weekend with Jennifer Keesmaat in which she made an interesting comment that connects to what I was reflecting on the other day.

She was talking about the social contract in Holland in which people were willing to forego larger personal spaces in exchange for higher quality and more accessible public spaces. People have less need for larger backyards when they have lots of parks and multi-use paths around them. She also contrasted this with the way in which larger private space is seen as a status symbol here in Canada; a larger home is indicative of moving up the social ladder. Yet she recalls family members in Holland living their whole lives in modest row houses, something here we would likely call a starter home.

The key piece here is that achieving this sort of standard of living requires a value or mindset shift from all of us. We need to see a thriving public realm as a worthy trade off; but it also requires investment. It's not enough to just carve off some land and then leave it. Vibrant public spaces need resourcing and creativity in order for them to bring the sort of joy that makes them worth it.