‘My strong­est wish for Dublin is for it to grow up­wards, not out­wards’

Hav­ing lived in minia­ture spa­ces in Mu­nich and Paris, I can ap­pre­ci­ate the ben­e­fits of apart­ment liv­ing

The Irish Times - Thursday - Property - - The Market - Gráinne Dir­wan

In the early days of our re­la­tion­ship, the days when I made de­lib­er­ate ef­forts to speak slowly and clearly due to my dis­be­lief that a French man could un­der­stand English to a com­pe­tent de­gree, my boyfriend de­scribed to me his Parisian apart­ment: a two-room space on the sixth floor that to him was be­gin­ning to feel too loose of a space just for one.

He had ex­plored the idea of sur­ren­der­ing the apart­ment to move into a house share with a good friend. To me this all sounded in the re­verse or­der of rites. In Dublin I had tol­er­ated dark cold house shares in the mews lanes of Dublin 6 un­til I even­tu­ally took the plunge dur­ing the re­ces­sional down­turn, and moved into a small but bright one-bed­room flat in Dublin 6W. The rent was ¤660, a triv­ial amount in to­day’s money.

Although cold dur­ing the long Ir­ish win­ter, I was hardy af­ter 10 years of Dublin house shares. It had be­come sec­ond na­ture to take out that sec­ond du­vet for the win­ter bed. I also knew that see­ing my breath tem­po­rar­ily im­mor­talised into dense white fog would pass af­ter the coun­try had lifted it­self out of the hump of the worst of the win­ter. I was very happy there and saw my fu­ture in only more spa­cious and warmer terms.

I was liv­ing in a house share in Mu­nich when I met my French boyfriend. It was a Wohnge­mein­schaft – a lit­eral liv­ing com­mu­nity – where I rented an 18sq m room un- fur­nished but equipped with its own bal­cony. Out­side Ire­land I have learned the lan­guage of square me­tres. With Mu­nich be­ing one of the more sought-af­ter Ger­man cities, the com­mon liv­ing space is sac­ri­ficed to make way for an ex­tra bed­room. This to me seems to run counter to the as­pi­ra­tion of the Wohnge­mein­schaft be­ing its own com­mu­nity, but what the hell.

Bal­cony es­cape

Sit­ting on my bal­cony tak­ing in views of the green gar­den en­joyed un­der the more out­go­ing Bavar­ian sun, I felt more than com­pen­sated. Since leav­ing Mu­nich the bal­cony still com­mands a spe­cial place in my heart as I grap­ple with and be­come numb to the com­pro­mises of Parisian liv­ing. The need for such a bal­cony is greater in Paris than in Ire­land given that the sun does smile down on Paris to share its warm rays more reg­u­larly. But the greater rea­son is that in the typ­i­cally small Parisian liv­ing quar­ters, a bal­cony would cre­ate the il­lu­sion of hav­ing a place to es­cape to, some­thing to covet among friends and foes alike.

To strip it down to its bones, the two-room apart­ment is a 40sq m rec­tan­gle with a bed­room, liv­ing room and sep­a­rate kitchen. I think to de­scribe it most clearly to those not in­ducted into the lingo of square me­tres, the apart­ment feels like two ho­tel rooms stuck to­gether. Vis­it­ing but res­i­dent Parisian friends al­ways com­pli­ment the apart­ment, bless­ing it with ad- jec­tives such as “bright” and “large”. Many Parisians have paid their dues by liv­ing in stu­dios as petite as 9sq m.

Such small con­fines of­ten en­cour­age the oc­cu­piers to stay out and en­joy this beau­ti­ful city more. I have done things in my apart­ment that on first im­pres­sions I thought could not hap­pen, such as liv­ing in har­mony with an­other hu­man be­ings and throw­ing big par­ties. Liv­ing in Paris makes you more tol­er­ant and brings you to an un­der­stand­ing of life ne­go­ti­ated un­der dif­fer­ent norms. I now ap­pre­ci­ate why the apart­ment was mak­ing my boyfriend feel lonely. I un­der­stand why he found him­self con­tem­plat­ing liv­ing in less space. Most in our net­work of Parisian friends humbly do so with lit­tle com­plaint. Many Parisians have paid their dues by liv­ing in stu­dios as petite as 9sq m.

The lessons from Parisian liv­ing have changed my out­look on what we ac­tu­ally need to live com­fort­ably. Pe­cu­liar­i­ties in how we have built with bricks and mor­tar in Ire­land now seem glar­ing. One of the best ob­ser­va­tions by my boyfriend was why we build such small houses in Ire­land. If a house is only go­ing to be 70sq m, why not make it an apart­ment if it is not de­serv­ing of be­ing made into a big­ger semi-de­tached house? I see the sense in this.

‘‘ To de­scribe it most clearly to those not in­ducted into the lingo of square me­tres, the apart­ment feels like two ho­tel rooms stuck to­gether

Con­crete slabs

But an apart­ment re­moves the op­por­tu­nity for a gar­den, and ar­rives us at my mother’s favourite ques­tion – where do Parisian chil­dren play? My strong­est wish for Dublin, as a per­son who adores its prox­im­ity to the moun­tains, is for the city to grow up­wards and not fol­low de­vel­op­ers’ Machi­avel­lian plans of ex­tend­ing out­wards. We will never get our coun­try­side back af­ter the con­crete slabs take root. We are com­pro­mis­ing fur­ther our air qual­ity as cars driven by city work­ers make long com­mutes.

Please, Dublin, grow up and think about small apart­ment liv­ing. It re­ally isn’t so bad.

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