Live/Work Space in the Post-Covid Age

Through five thousand years of urban living, people have lived over the shop. Mostly because it was the only possible arrangement. Urban dwellers with something to produce or sell had to do it out of the only space available, and that was usually their home.



"...from the nineteenth century to the present day, we have largely striven for increasing separation of work from home..."

To look at the problem from another angle: urban dwellers often didn’t have the choice to commute to another location to earn a livelihood. Child care, elder care, livestock care and related domestic obligations would have compelled many urban workers to keep an eye on the front and back of the shop simultaneously.


This is all changed in the Industrial Revolution, when fossil fuel combustion both centralized work places, and made living near the place of work unpleasant and unhealthy. And so from the nineteenth century to the present day, we have largely striven for increasing separation of work from home, as well as increasing specialization in livelihoods.



All of this long distance commuting and workplace specialization was made possible by an abundance of cheap fossil fuels and a willingness to burn them with wild abandon. Richard Heinberg is a writer an educator on matters to do with energy, and every one of the books he has published calls into question whether the highly specialized, segregated, commuter workforce can be maintained in an energy-constrained economy.

"For the young entrepreneur hoping to start a hair salon, a pottery studio, a toy store, bike repair, dog grooming, massage therapy or any other number of small businesses, a live/work space is the perfect incubator."

One response to energy constraints is to try to eliminate the commute for some workers. Two years ago, many North Americans would have found it absurd to “live over the shop”. Yet that is exactly what many of us have been doing since March of 2020. Some people miss traveling to the office every day, but many do not. If my street is typical, many people are using time in the late afternoon where they’d otherwise be stuck in traffic, to go for a walk, discovering new acquaintances with people and places in their immediate surroundings, of which they had previously been unaware.



An urban dwelling that accommodates a small business and residence in one, is a live/work space. Andres Duany, founder of New Urbanism, has stated that live/work units are often the first spaces to sell out in new communities that he has designed. For the young entrepreneur hoping to start a hair salon, a pottery studio, a toy store, bike repair, dog grooming, massage therapy or any other number of small businesses, a live/work space is the perfect incubator. A cleverly designed space could even convert back into residential space as the occupant’s family circumstances change.

"Two years ago, many North Americans would have found it absurd to “live over the shop”. Yet that is exactly what many of us have been doing since March of 2020. Some people miss traveling to the office every day, but many do not."

Upcoming urban infill of many underused lots in Ottawa will give us the chance to try new architectural configurations to accommodate a post-commuter lifestyle. We could take our inspiration from the world’s oldest cities and their ancient live/work spaces.


~ JANET MARK WALLACE is a regular blog contributor for Walkable Ottawa