Dixie Darr

I’ll Take the Low Road

In creativity, Denver, Home on May 2, 2017 at 12:09 pm

I’ve lived in 21 places that I remember in my lifetime, maybe more, and every one of them was originally made as a residence. A couple were apartments carved out of a single-family house, and one truly weird one was made by fusing two studios into a single, dark one-bedroom apartment with two bathrooms and remnants of a second kitchen. Anyway, this is significant only because my dream has always been to live in a space converted from another use—a former library or schoolhouse or church. I guess that goes on my list of things to do in my next lifetime along with my dream of building my own house.

When I sold my house in Highland neighborhood, I wanted an open loft space in an industrial building with no interior walls except around the bathroom. What I got instead was a typical newish condo that was called a loft but has walls in all the usual places albeit with a great layout and in a terrific location.

You can’t always get what you want, to quote the Rolling Stones.

Stewart Brand points out that these converted structures allow for unusual flexibility and attract the most creative people. In his book and YouTube series, How Buildings Learn: What happens after they’re built, he describes the commercial use of what he calls Low Road buildings—low rent, low visibility, no style, high turnover abandoned buildings in iffy parts of town. Shabby, spacious, and frequently meant to be temporary, they survive by offering endlessly adaptable spaces to artists, entrepreneurs, and inventors and states that “most of the world’s work is done in Low Road buildings.”

Urban design icon (and one of my personal heroes) Jane Jacobs agrees that vibrant and viable neighborhoods need old buildings because “new ideas must come from old buildings.” (The Death and Life of Great American Cities).

Of course, Silicon Valley grew from businesses hatched in someone’s garage. Brand also discusses creative uses of self-storage units. “In these spaces you find the damnedest things—a boxer working out, quiet adultery, an old gent in a huge chair enjoying a cigar away from his wife, an entire British barn in pieces, a hydroponic garden, stolen goods, a motorcycle repair shop, an artist’s studio, someone shaping surfboards, lots of very ordinary storage, and, about once a month somewhere in America, a dead body.”

The news in Denver recently featured the story of a veteran who was living (illegally) in a 70 square foot storage unit because even though he was working he couldn’t afford the soaring rent in Denver. That may constitute creative use of an alternative space and marginally better than sleeping on the streets, but the only positive part of the story is that he has since found real housing.

Sometimes you get what you need.

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