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Everybody's arguing about architecture (no, dillholes, it is not fascism for people to want the places they live to be better-looking than Steve Buscemi), but govt buildings are the least of our problems.

See, before the coronavirus hit, my wife and I spent six weeks in Taiwan.
I had been to Taiwan before, but never for six weeks. The amount of time made the novelty wear off. It felt more like I was living there, so I could see what living there felt like. And it felt very different, in large part because of how Taiwan builds.
In the States, when you see a shop that has living space above, you assume it's a commercial building with commercial space for lease down below and apartments for rent above. That can be the case in Taiwan, too, esp in a big city. But a lot of the time? It's someone's house.
My wife is from a smallish town in Southern Taiwan. (My father-in-law was born in an even SMALLER town nearby, making him officially a Taiwanese redneck.)

Even in small towns, Taiwan builds mostly dense, multi-story houses to the edge of the plot.

The 1st floor is public space.
So, think of a big city townhouse with attached parking. The space that would be a garage here? In Taiwan, that's commercial space.

You don't just own a house. You own a bookshop, or a restaurant, or a coffeehouse, or whatever you want.
Often, the public space includes sidewalk. One thing you'll see a lot in Taiwan is columns on the outer edge of the sidewalk, so the 2nd floor of the house actually goes *over* the sidewalk and the windows look out right over the street.

More living space, more shade in summer.
My wife's town is not large. But it is dense.

What's that like? Let's compare it to where my wife and I live, in the San Fernando Valley.
We have a normal-sized house, single-story, on a normal-sized lot that is about the width of three lots in Taiwan.

If I want to visit a grocery store, I have to get a cargo bike or in the car, because it's a few miles.

A shop of any kind, it's probably about a mile.
And if I do get to a shop, it's at a strip mall, single-story, with a few shops in it.

Then there's another dearth of stuff until I hit the shops or a big commercial area.
By contrast, when you walk down one block of a public street in my wife's hometown, you are apt to pass maybe twenty to thirty small businesses of varied kinds.

*Per side.*
There are three kinds of streets in Taiwan: big streets with lots of cars, small streets (that cars can drive on but they're narrower so traffic is slow, and alleys.

In Los Angeles, "alley" means "a place to get knifed." In Taiwan, "alley" means "a place to find delicious food."
The big streets with lots of cars are outnumbered by the other two kinds in small towns. Even in Taipei, traffic is much more channeled than it is in the States.
What does this all mean? It means *Taiwan is insanely walkable and has a staggering business density.*

I don't know if "business density" is an official term, but it's the only way I can describe it.
These shops and restaurants are densely packed, so they're small. That means more businesses from the consumer end, but guess what?

From the business owner end, *it requires less capital to open one.*
And because it takes less capital to open, a Taiwanese business is more flexible to the wishes of its owner and requirements of the owner's life.

For example: consider a restaurant.
If you want to open a restaurant in the states, you have to find a commercial restaurant space, and it's gonna be commercial-sized so you're gonna have to get a bunch of tables and chairs and plates and equipment to cook for the big clientele you need to stay open, etc.
In Taiwan, you need a space, and either you use your own downstairs or rent space for someone who isn't using their own. This is free or inexpensive.

You don't need to invest capital to cook for sixty people. *Because they can't fit in your restaurant.*
My wife and I frequented a breakfast joint. It had a steamer, a gas stove, a grill.

Total capital investment: probably less than an electric moped.
People do all kinds of things with their public spaces (what we'd consider garages). My in-laws live on a less commercialized street.

One of their neighbors runs a laundromat in her living room.

Another neighbor made his garage a Daoist temple.
What are some implications of this?

Well, here's one: if you live in Taiwan, you will see your neighbors a lot, and will have a better sense of what's going on in your neighborhood than the average American in suburbia does.
This extends to garbage collection, BTW.

Here is how garbage collection works in L.A.: the city gives you cans. You fill them, leave them outside for an automated garbage truck.

In Taiwan, the garbage truck comes *every day.*
Why does the Taiwanese garbage truck come every day? Because, get this, *Taiwan does not do curbside garbage cans.*

The garbage truck comes by -- playing music like a US ice cream truck -- and you and your neighbors gather to toss your little plastic bags of trash in the back.
You literally see your neighbors every day or two at trash time. If somebody doesn't show up for several days, maybe you go ask after them to make sure they're okay.

As it happens, frequent encounters are the key to making friends: why it's so easy in college, & so hard after.
Taiwan is also not subject to the tyranny of decor.

The US is all about expensive, fancy decor everywhere.

Meanwhile, there is a ramen shop in my wife's hometown that is basically indistinguishable from the motorcycle repair shop next to it.
If you go to the doctor in the US, you go into a waiting room, then into one of a zillion little rooms, the nurse looks at you and leaves, then the doctor comes.

The zillion little rooms mean duplication of furniture and medical equipment.
If you go to the doctor in Taiwan, you go in the waiting room. Then to the nurse's office. Then back to the waiting room. Then to the doctor's office.

This involves a lot less duplication of material, and I bet it's easier on the doctors and nurses.
Taiwan is much more human-scaled, is what I'm saying.

And here's the thing:

*Most Taiwanese architecture is not beautiful.*

It is *interesting* to look at, bc buildings are different sizes and shapes and colors, so there's variety. But a lot of it is concrete slabbery.
The traditional houses are very cool, but many are falling into disrepair. (If I were a bricklayer, I'd be tempted to move to Taiwan and buy and restoring traditional houses.)

But even if the modern stuff isn't beautiful, it's SO MUCH MORE FUNCTIONAL than what we've got.
I recently read Frederick Lewis Allen's ONLY YESTERDAY: AN INFORMAL HISTORY OF THE 1920S, and one of the things that I found most striking was his note that the '20s were the decade where people started to avoid neighborhood shops & take a $2000 car to save pennies on groceries.
Having a car is terrific. It gives you freedom, choices, the endless possibility of the open road.

*Needing* a car for everything is probably the worst thing in the world you can do to the everyday living situation of comfortably well-off human beings.
Anyway, I just wanted to share that with everybody.

Our public architecture in the US is indeed ugly.

But the way we build our houses and lay out our communities is truly fucked.

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