My Take

New York going the way of Hong Kong with its 'micro-apartments'

PUBLISHED : Monday, 19 May, 2014, 2:32am
UPDATED : Monday, 19 May, 2014, 5:58am

We in Hong Kong are accustomed to idolising real world cities like New York. But there is at least one crucial respect in which the Big Apple is following our example: increasingly cramped apartments and shrinking living space.

Writing in The Atlantic magazine, journalist Jacoba Urist points out the obvious: New York has a serious housing problem when "it has 1.8 million one- and two-person households, and only one million studios and one-bedroom apartments".

The solution, advocated by former mayor Michael Bloomberg and followed by developers, is to build more "micro-apartments", tiny flats of 250 and 370 square feet. Sound familiar?

New York, of course, has always had small flats. But the point is that they are being promoted as the wave of the future from tycoons like Bloomberg on down.

Developers love it. Why? Because such flats increase the ground value that they can extract from each square foot of space. Property tycoons like Li Ka-shing know all about this.

Over time, this will make housing more expensive for the average Joe or Wong: they either have to pay more to live in the same-sized flats they rent or pay the same to live in ever-smaller flats. Sad to say, Hongkongers know all about it while New Yorkers, especially new arrivals, are just beginning to realise it - hence Urist treating it as news.

This has led to declining housing standards and living conditions as well as an erosion of zoning laws. "Countless New Yorkers illegally share apartments, and current zoning rules can create poor living environments - dilapidated kitchens or dark, dingy rooms," Urist writes.

But the central message of her article is not economics; rather the psychological impact that living in cramped space has on the well-being of its inhabitants.

It increases stress, which is related to domestic violence and substance abuse, not to say bad relations with neighbours.

But since most of us are born and raised in small homes in Hong Kong, it's less of a big deal. People who grew up in open spaces will feel worse, as expats and outsiders who move to Hong Kong have long discovered.

Urist should perhaps visit Hong Kong, where she will see the future of Big Apple.