Spain’s global lead in elevators tied to housing policies

Spain leads the world in elevators per 1,000 people and this is the result of certain housing policies:

Compared to other countries, Spain’s elevator supply looks remarkably, well, elevated.

Spain Has Risen to the Top of Global Elevator Rankings

At face value, there’s a pretty simple reason why. Spaniards are some of the world’s pre-eminent apartment-dwellers. In 2012, roughly 65 percent of the population lived in apartment buildings, much higher than the euro-area average of 46 percent. (The only other European countries that compare to Spain in terms of apartment-living are Latvia and Estonia, which are both also around 65 percent.)…

Top-down planning gave rise to relatively high-density urban building, often by politically connected construction companies in a building boom that stretched from the 1960s into the late 1970s.

“The dominant form of this housing was estates (apartment complexes) with over 1,000 dwellings,” wrote then Harvard academic Eric Belsky and colleague Nicolas Retsinas, in a paper on the Spanish housing market back in 2004. “These estates replaced many of the shantytowns that developed near cities like Barcelona and Madrid in the late 1940s and early 1950s.”

Thus was the modern Spanish city born.

With the emphasis on agricultural land in the Franco regime, dense cities and elevators were the result.

Given all this, what are the implications?

1. Do all those elevators detract from or enhance walking (taking the stairs versus having denser communities where walking is the norm)?

2. Are there any unique features of Spanish elevator culture?

3. Do the Spanish any sort of edge in elevator technology or maintenance?

The “fantastical anthropology” of taking photographs of beach “tribes” in Spain

One photographer has taken a unique approach to documenting life on Spain’s beaches:

Sitting there in the sand, mostly naked, with chairs, towels and belongings delineating territory, beach goers tend to form small fiefdoms with their friends and families. It’s a phenomenon that Spanish photographer Lucia Herrero has exploited in her excellent portrait series, appropriately titled, Tribes

“It was like an anthropological revelation,” she says. “Suddenly it was like, ‘I have it!’”

For two summers, 2009 and 2010, Herrero traveled along the entire Spanish coast, both the Mediterranean and Atlantic, shooting hundreds of pictures of Spanish families that, combined, make up what she calls a sort of collective portrait of Western and Spanish middle class society…

Not only does Herrero view her work as an observation of human behavior, but she’s coined a term for her style: “Antropología Fantástica,” or fantastical anthropology.

Herroro says she purposely constructs a kind of fantasy world, or theatrical production, by shooting into the sun, creating a darker than normal backdrop, and then lighting the families in the portrait with a 1000 watt strobe, resulting in a surreally contrasted photo. Using a strobe to obtain this effect is nothing new, but it’s only a small part of Antropología Fantástica that allows Herrero to take a “banal situation and [elevate] it to a state of exception.” While arranging the shoot, for example, she says she likes to direct the families but never gives them direct instructions on how to pose. As a result the stances and groupings she captures are sort of arranged but also infused with a tinge of chaos.

How much would it take to make this a more traditional ethnographic project? The photos would certainly get people’s attention and then if this project also included observations, interviews, and background information, this could make a fascinating study.

I’ve written before about the idea of “performative social science.” I know the primary currency in American sociology today is statistics but I’ve continued to mull over the idea that such research findings or methodologies could find space for more artistic elements. Perhaps this is a continuation of my enjoyment in watching the music jam session at ASA 2012. At the least, putting our research findings into more “popular” venues, such as art, music, film, documentaries, and stories might help us reach an American culture that is not well-versed in how to read, understand, and care about social science.

Comparing the size of new American homes to those in France, Spain, and Britain

As the size of the average new American home dropped in recent years and then increased again in 2011, it is helpful to keep in mind how American homes compare to those in Europe:

By the way, even if American homes do shrink slightly, they’ll still be much bigger than homes abroad. A 2009 survey from Britain’s Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment found that the average new home built in the United States has twice the floor space of those built in France and Spain and is three times as large as the average new British home.Am

To put this in perspective, this means that the average new home in Britain is roughly 800 square feet and new homes in France and Spain are about 1,200 square feet. Is this what American exceptionalism looks like these days?

This reminds me of watching House Hunters International on HGTV. When you have an American looking to purchase a home in Europe, they often say they need space though the square footage or acreage is rarely quantified. In contrast, Europeans on the show seem to expect that European homes will be smaller and are willing to deal with it. You can often see quite a difference in expectations: Americans expect more personal space and distance between them and neighbors. This is not necessarily because Americans are unfriendly; one recent survey put the United States at the fifth most friendly country. Perhaps it could be tied to how much stuff Americans expect to have. Regardless, more Americans appear to relish the idea of having private space within the home in ways that is not possible or not wanted in other cultures.