Is the UK Housing Future Building Itself into a Crammed Corner?
I may be stating the obvious here. Just like architecture and economic policies, the idea behind what counts as proper living changes every year. Going back a couple of decades, internet connectivity was a luxury available in some nerdy homes. Now, the idea of living without the internet is almost impossible in most societies, to the point where we have institutions such as the European Union considering the provision of good quality, affordable internet service a right.
Now, more changes might be coming in regards to what counts as the minimum standard of housing in the UK. As part of the monolexical “Build, build, build” campaign, Boris Johnson’s government has introduced endless changes to how houses are planned and built, all for the stated aim of building more housing in an attempt to tackle the ever-present housing crisis in the country. However, these ambitious plans are paved on a road of questionable compromises, such as the ability to change commercial buildings into residential use without planning permission.
Of the many policies in this campaign, the changes to the permitted development rights are some of the most radical proposals. As Vice has previously explained with its very clear diagrams (which include a bit of cat-swinging), these newly built houses could be smaller than many hotel rooms, with the minimum required being around three and a half times smaller than the current standard. Even experts have chimed in expressing their concerns, from the Royal Institute of British Architects to the London School of Economics. Sadly, this might not be enough to stop these regulations from rolling in.
By now you’re probably wondering, “Why am I reading about housing in a cyberpunk site?” That’s because, if you’re familiar with the genre, micro-housing tends to be common in the urban hellscape these stories take place in. Considering how prevalent a stereotype these apartments are in cyberpunk worlds, is there anything we could learn from the genre about making the most of the least space? While I can’t promise to provide better academic arguments than the LSE, this dive could help us discover how to survive the new micro-future.
Could Pod Living Become a Virtual Reality Escape?
For the most part, cyberpunk characters tend to not spend much time in their bedrooms. That’s not an interesting setting for a story. Despite this, when we do catch a glimpse there is usually a bit of technology to help simulate life in the cold urban flat. Some of these technologies, like Blade Runner 2049’s holographic girlfriend JOI, are still outside of reach for most of us.
But thanks to the rapid advances in VR and AR technology, we might be able to simulate a whole different reality instead.
With a good internet connection, a strong computer, and a lot of creativity, one might get close to simulating Gibson’s original vision of cyberspace. Using virtual reality technology, there are some obvious ways to escape your crammed space, like gaming or social apps like VRChat. But recently, some users have been taking it a step further. Using an engine like Unity, users have recreated their meatspace dwelling in the virtual world with some even slightly altering the furniture to add paintings, planets, or better views out the window. If you really want, you can even pretend to live on an island (Animal Crossing’s got you beat on that one).
Why is this useful, you might ask? Because by incorporating mixed reality, it’s possible to add a practical purpose to things such as tables, and to add the impossible holograms to your reality. So if your vision can stand prolonged use of VR, it might be a great way to add life to the apartment of the future.
Of course, the biggest limitation of this alternate-reality solution is obvious: price. Entry-level VR may have become a lot more accessible since the technology was first sold, but it’s still well beyond the budget of many, especially those who might have to resort to this kind of housing to avoid homelessness. Additionally, it seems more and more that space is becoming an important component of any VR game, especially in the HTC Vive and Valve Index. With VR not being a doable escape for many, it might be better to search for solutions in the source of inspiration for cyberpunk housing itself.
Inspirations from the East: Japan and Hong Kong
For many Westerners, these crammed apartments exist only in fiction. However, the original source of inspiration for the cyberpunk genre has long been a staple in places like Toyko, Hong Kong, and Singapore. Soon, countries like the UK might adopt some of these living standards. So what can be imported to survive them?
The most obvious start is to embrace vertical living. Bunk beds, cabinets, and anything that can hang from your ceiling will free up the valuable floor space. Also, get rid of your normal bed and either hide it in the walls or get a futon.
If executed correctly, small housing may be livable in many cases. But it needs other elements in a city to become livable. A strong public transport sphere, high number of activities to do outside, and significant portion of time spent at work are some of the ways Japanese citizens are able to stand living in such small apartments. If these solutions aren’t present, however, is pod living even possible in our world?
How Much Can We Learn About Pod Living?
With a small-living future looming closer and closer, it’s kind of terrifying how, in some ways, the living standards of the cyberpunk world are actually better than ours. After all, the core appeal of the genre is “high-tech, low-life.”
In the world of cyberpunk, high technology is easily available. Holograms, cyberspace, and even prosthetics are products that the ramen-eating low-life punks of the world can afford or at least rig bootleg-style. This is opposed to their being enthusiast items. Cities have evolved into a Megalopolis that can cover all of your vices, from bars to fight clubs.
For some of us, this is our reality. I’m sure we have readers from NYC and London with a VR headset. However, this doesn’t apply to all.
The grim truth is, once the slums of the future arrive, it’s likely that many will be stuck in a low-tech, low-life setting. It’s not often that we manage to overtake dystopias in some categories of the setting. But without the interconnected megalopolis of cyberpunk, our pod apartments somehow manage to be even worse. With a bit of increase in worldwide crime rates and a rocking cyborg body, we might be able to beat them in all categories. Hopefully, our actual future is a lot less depressing than the predicted one, and we end up laughing at this article 10 years from now.