This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

I talk about density because it’s good for the environment, good for reducing resources, protects natural environemnts and farms, and builds a better city.  But I don’t love density just because it’s good for me.  I’ve found living and working close to others to be far more enjoyable than the alternative.

The best living arrangement I’ve experienced were college dorms, and remember those days fondly. We were packed 2 to a tiny room, around 50 to a floor with a shared bathroom on our floor and a cafeteria downstairs. But the human interaction that created was amazing – we all (all 50) acted like a family and kept our doors open to be able to wander in and out of our neighbors’ rooms and to hear what’s going on nearby.

The most fun and most productive office environment I’ve had was in small cubicles where we could talk freely with those around us while working.  We could ask questions and share information effortlessly, but also joked and formed strong personal bonds.

I currently live in the best neighborhood I’ve lived in.  It’s an old “streetcar suburb” with 30′ lot lines. I can walk to 3 grocery stores, dozens of restaurants, bars, drug stores, parks, libraries etc. I can ride my bike to work in 10 minutes.  I have a bus line a block from my house that can get me most anywhere. 

The worst neighborhood experience, living arrangement, and office experience I’ve had was when I lived in the suburbs. I commuted long distances to a large office with walls and a door, where I’d have to get up and walk into a coworker’s office – if we wanted more than two to talk we’d both have to go to the next office (this rarely happened).  At home I barely knew my neighbors – and even then it was just the people next to me. I couldn’t walk to any stores or services and had to drive everywhere.  My commute distance left me with barely any free time, and I lived for the weekend – and even then much of my time was taken up with mowing the large lawns.

So that’s what’s built my opinion of density – ignoring all of the social, economic, and environmental benefits. I think it might come down to personality type. If you like people, density is for you. If you like to be left alone, maybe you’re a suburbanite.

2 Replies to “Proximity”

  1. Good post, Matt. I don’t think density advocates make the affirmative case nearly enough. We – and I include myself here – spend too much time on the “eat your vegetables” environmental arguments, and not enough time talking about the positives.

  2. It’s a reasonable explanation of introversion vs. extraversion that introverts are tired by prolonged social interactions, while extroverts are invigorated by same.

    But it’s a question of stamina more than pleasure or mental health. I’m a solid introvert, but “play” extravert in my day job (because, quite simply, introversion is an obstacle to career success). I don’t generally throw dinner parties, prefer individual sports, and long nights out with groups are rare.

    I do, though, enjoy the short nights out with friends. And my interactions with “public acquaintances” such as baristas and neighborhood buskers. It’s a cliche but true that humans are social animals. Even if you prefer short-and-sweet connections, you’re still better off living in an environment that enables them.

    I suppose, though, that the drive-thru attendant counts.

Comments are closed.