Are we talking about the distance between the walls and the ceiling of my room? Are we talking about the distance I wish that blonde in the MAGA hat would keep away from me in the produce aisle? Are we talking about the quiet moments I wanted when my children were small and demanding? While it is now a cliché, one of my favorite shows when we finally got a TV began with the words, “Space, the final frontier” — another concept using the same word but a much larger idea than presented before. Discussing this concept demands a specific definition lest we wander off in a garbled mess. The amount of distance between two objects is to me the basic definition. It covers all the above.
I live in a rural subdivision where the distances between houses is a good walk even if we can see the neighbor’s roof or at least their fence. Some neighbors are known only by the name on the mail that gets misdelivered. Private people seem to gravitate to rural areas. Others drop by almost daily to borrow a tool or share an overflow of fresh eggs or summer squash. The distance covered in walking is considered trivial. Visiting family in town always brings comments from my husband about mowing your grass with a pair of scissors. There is a premium on lot size when the house price is reasonable. Yet, privacy is also a premium. Who really lives in that house across the way−the one with a car in the driveway and two on the street? Our neighborhood’s use of space seems extravagant or even wasteful, while our daughter’s neighborhood seems thrifty and frugal.
How we humans fill the land around us is a question of space utilization. How useful is that space? Can it grow food? Can we easily move across it without a walkway? In the marshes of England archeologists find miles of wooden walkways build by early humans so they could cross the swampy ground. The solid ground was a place for food production and danger. Take up the boards and the invader must wade in the muck. How quickly we forget! Acres of excellent farmland is covered by sprawling subdivisions in the Midwest and the Rio Grande Valley. Urban sprawl endangers our food supply. Is there space for farms in the urban landscape? It may become a necessity to know that soon.
Urban areas swarm with people. A summer visit to NYC brought us to a park with a fountain where children splashed in the water, a musician played a grand piano, and a pushcart sold frozen treats. Hundreds of families crowded the park — great people watching but anxiety producing for this country woman watching her grandchildren playing in the water. How much space do I leave next to the others in the park? What is appropriate?
We punish some in our culture for hugs without permission but in other cultures, to greet without a hug is an insult. Touching and crowding comes with urban density. How do we define what that distance should be? How do we define space as a culture?
Space is the distance we choose to hold between two objects, two people, or two worlds. We choose what is appropriate in that place and at that time.