Talk to me for long about the future and you'll find my optimistic vision of the future involves the overwhelming majority (upwards of 95%) of people live in cities. One of the frequent complaints people tend to make to me about this point is that living in the city means living in a much smaller space. The suburbs, people argue, offer the luxuries of a yard and a house with lots of rooms, for far less money than could possibly be practical in the city. I think this point is nonsense, for a few reasons. One, a public park offers virtually all the advantages of a private yard, with the added benefit that it's less likely to go unused almost all of the time, and you don't have to keep up the part-time job of maintaining it. Two, who really needs to be a 45 minute drive away from the nearest hub of civilization? If you're reclusive and antisocial, sure, it might be easier to rationalize if you live far away from stuff. But you can stay at home in a city just as easily as you can in a town or a suburb.
The space one, though, I think is an arguably good point. To move almost all of earth's population into cities, people would have to take up less space.
But I think this involves less a genuine sacrifice than a re-evaluation of priorities. After all, who in a suburb can really say that they're using all the space in their house to the best possible effect? I know the house I live in (my parents',) has two very large spaces, the attic and the basement, that are used primarily for keeping things we would otherwise have thrown away and not missed.
Which brings me to my point:
(via Boing Boing)
Small spaces, like the apartment in the above video, can be used to extraordinary effect. A lot of people living in the suburbs right now could probably get by on a fifth of the space they currently take up, and find they don't miss it, if the space was properly organized.
I don't deny that there are definitely circumstances which demand a larger amount of dedicated space. A sculptor, for example, might need a studio where her statue could remain even when she's not working on it. But in a lot of those cases, shared public space is possible, and perhaps even preferrable.
There may be rare cases when an individual really does need a space much larger than a studio apartment, but I think those are probably few enough that their needs could easily be met.
The biggest block I see in the way of this move, for most people, is the status symbol of a big house. In our culture, one of the markers for how successful you are is how much space you take up. And I don't think that's likely to ever really go away, but I think it could be scaled down pretty intensely. With houses that use space as efficiently as these apartments do, the size of a normal suburban house could easily retain the functionality of a mansion.
The other significant conceivable problem I see is kids. No matter how you cut it, every additional person living in a space increases the demands on that space, and in many ways that demand can't be overlapped.
Still, I think the average middle-class family could easily take up half the amount of space afforded by the size of suburban house they might otherwise use.