In NYC and China, developers are building smaller apartments.


by Elaine Schwartz    •    Oct 23, 2012    •    1291 Views

An iPad turns on the lights, the shower is a futuristic sounding vertical tube near the door and the bed becomes seating.  Occupying 161 square feet, this Dongguan, China micro-apartment is the size of a US mall parking space. But, at $133 a square foot (835 yuan), for a young Chinese software engineer, the price is right.

In NYC also, you might be able to buy a micro-apartment. While currently the minimum apartment square footage is 400, Mayor Bloomberg is suppporting a pilot project that downsizes units to 275 or 300 square feet. If the experiment works, he says zoning minimums might change.

What is the message?

In China, it is about the labor force. As workers move to cities and factory towns, an increasingly urban workforce needs affordable housing that is far better than the substandard dwellings currently available.

In the US, more of us are living alone. With a 51% marriage rate among the adult population, a typical woman marrying at 26.5 and the average male at 28.7, with elevated divorce rates and longevity creating more widows and widowers, we have more urban singles.

Smaller urban units have so many implications.

Harvard economist Ed Glaeser tells us that people who live in cities not only use up fewer resources but also, they create “spillover.” As we said in an earlier post, “A spillover is just the spread of something, such as a new idea, beyond the spot where it originated. When a new idea easily spreads because…people [live closer to each other in the city], we would say the spillover created a positive externality. That just means that an accomplishment that originally involved 2 entities, rippled outward to benefit many.”

Sources and Resources: Articles about micro-apartments are fascinating–especially the pictures. This Reuters report talks about NYC while WSJ focuses on China and here is what San Francisco is planning. For more about demographic trends in the US, you might want to see these Pew Research facts. Also, past econlife posts on the benefits of urban living in the US are here and here.

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