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Vera Kichanova on micro-homes

Last night I attended a meeting, and although I did not have any arguments with anyone about fake news, I did meet with Vera Kichanova, and learned from her that her Adam Smith Institute “report” (aka: argument in favour of) micro-housing was to be published today. Good. I’m for it.

ASI announcement by Matthew Lesh here. The entire thing can be read here.

I don’t agree with Vera’s title, “Size Doesn’t Matter”. I think that when it comes to where you live, size matters a lot. You don’t want somewhere too big for you, or too small for you. Perhaps the ASI is hoping that, by having a silly title, they will sucker many of those who hate the idea, and who would otherwise ignore it, into instead denouncing it because of its title, thus spreading the word about it. The Trump technique, in other words.

For many, “micro” would indeed be way too small. But, for quite a few others, micro-living would be much preferable to a long commute. I am in favour of people having choices along such lines rather than at the far end of a line. And I am in favour of entrepreneurs having the freedom to bet their time and money contriving such choices.

I’ve not yet read Vera’s piece yet (this being one of those something now rather than something better but later postings), so I don’t know if she makes this point, but one very good reason why many might now be okay with a much smaller living space is that home entertainment and home education can now occupy a tiny fraction of the space that they used to, about one or maybe two generations ago. You can literally now carry your entire entertainment system, and your entire library – words, music, movies, TV shows, the lot – in a small bag. In other words, you can now not merely eke out your existence in a tiny dwelling space, you can actually have a life while living in such a micro-home.

One final point, before I hurry back to the rest of my life. Vera Kichanova works for Zaha Hadid Architects, which is all part of why I believe it to be important that Zaha Hadid Architects thrives.

28 comments to Vera Kichanova on micro-homes

  • The Sage

    So, bed-sits by any other name?

  • John

    I’m against regulation of such stuff and say “if there’s a market for it, let people voluntarily buy and sell…’

    BUT… if I bought into the dominant authoritarian mindset, banning this sort of thing (high density factory farms for humans) would be early on my list of things to do. An illustration perhaps of the reason why those promoting authoritarian policies should thing twice and not assume it is THEIR preferences which would be enforced…

    … and Hadid architecture and the rest of the brutalist mess would be early on the list too.

    (Come to think of it, both my opinions have rather thin externality based justifications… in the latter case very thin…)

  • bobby b

    From the report:

    “In addition to reforming the planning system to allow more houses to be built, micro-housing would enable land to be used more efficiently . . . Notably, due to its small scale and adaptability, micro-housing helps to increase density in a given neighborhood without disrupting its routine.”

    Get in an airplane and fly over whatever country in which you live. Marvel at how much empty land there is – non-cropland, even – compared to the tiny pockets teeming with people.

    Why this insistence on piling everyone together like buckets of ants? There is no shortage of land. What we have is a cultural insistence that everyone must gather their workplaces together. Technology has freed us from such constraints – they remain out of habit. The social ills generated from overcrowding outweigh the benefits of efficient sewerage.

    Biologically, locusts are simply grasshoppers that are overcrowded and stressed.

    (I am strongly in favor of allowing for microhousing – for drastically altering how we deal with “planning” and permitting and building. We don’t all need or want McMansions. It has uses far beyond stacking more people into your Metropolitan Statistical Area. Too many discussions of microhousing focus on packing us together, and deal not at all with microhousing qua microhousing.)

  • pete

    Not a new idea. People used to live in micro homes right next to the factory, with whole families in one room.

  • Derek Buxton

    The other problem is that now families have Cars sometimes multiple ones. What happens then????

  • Mr Ed

    Are we celebrating rabbit hutches? Or asking what libertarian-minded solutions there might be to the property bubble?

    How about:

    1. Close the Bank of England, stop the credit bubble that inflates the housing market and drives much of the ‘financial services’ industry.

    2. Scrap 90% of the government jobs in London, to reduce demand on housing and reduce taxation.

    3. Remove planning controls, zoning etc.

    4. Stop State funding of quangos and charities, particularly in London. Reduce demand for housing in London, and taxation.

    5. Remove State support for the railways, let the true costs of commuting be apparent.

    6. Scrap Housing Benefit and like benefits, and rents will fall.

  • Tiny homes are trailers for hipsters.

  • We don’t all need or want McMansions.

    Frankly, I hate the word “McMansion” for the sneering attitude it displays toward people who wish to have a housing arrangement that most of the users of the word don’t like.

  • Chester Draws

    Ted, a McMansion is a house that is big merely for the sake of being big. Cheaply built with rooms that are not suitable for purpose (who needs a 100 sq m bedroom?). Such houses should be sneered at, because they are a waste of money.

    If people didn’t like big houses, as such, they would simply say mansion, no need for the “Mc”.

    … and Hadid architecture and the rest of the brutalist mess would be early on the list too.

    Did Hadid build a single Brutalist building? She’s not famous for any. Brutalism had largely ended before she started.

    Brutalist means “built in bare concrete”. Brutalist buildings don’t have to be big or ugly, just built with bare concrete. They don’t even have to be above ground. Some of them are very nice, but they do tend to wear badly because concrete gets so dirty.

  • bobby b

    “But, for quite a few others, micro-living would be much preferable to a long commute.”

    Forget the commute. Spread out the jobs. Like Mr. Ed says, take government employees out of the huge metropolitan areas. Tele-work.

    More importantly, micro-homes give Generation Rent a chance to own their own property – a chance our current system seems to deny them.

    Ever pay to heat a 4000 square foot home when your monthly average temperature is 5 degrees F? Or cool one when it’s 90 degrees F? Microhomes represent a huge utility savings.

    Maintenance costs are much lower. Furnishing the home is cheaper. Property footprints can be much smaller.

    We’ve lived with excess for so long, we take it for granted. But the average one-or-two-person household generally lives in two or three rooms at most. The rest of the space is nicely decorated, and sits idle awaiting some gathering that, for most people, happens rarely.

    “Frankly, I hate the word “McMansion” for the sneering attitude it displays . . . “

    I don’t mean to sneer. My home base is in a community where the average house has 9000 finished square feet, and an average occupancy of three.

    Well, okay, maybe I DO mean to sneer.

  • John

    Did Hadid build a single Brutalist building? She’s not famous for any. Brutalism had largely ended before she started.

    Brutalist means “built in bare concrete”. Brutalist buildings don’t have to be big or ugly, just built with bare concrete. They don’t even have to be above ground. Some of them are very nice, but they do tend to wear badly because concrete gets so dirty.

    Part of my point was that it is a matter of taste, but…

    The Hadid building I’m most familiar with, the one she’s famous for in this part of the world, is this one: CAC and the picture of it there is VERY flattering. It is far worse in person. I don’t know if you can tell from the picture, but it is, indeed, bare concrete…

  • Agammamon

    One thing about micro-homes that micro-home advocates seem to gloss over is that unless you’re a complete shut-in by nature, they only really work in ultra-high density urban zones where there’s a lot to do outside the house within walking distance. That means bars, restaurants, nightclubs, museums, art galleries – not parks though because land is too expensive in those places.

    Not having kids really helps.

    And those places tend to be filled with condos and apartments because micro-houses still won’t hold enough people.

    Personally, if you’re moving out of the city into the suburbs I don’t know why you would then want a tiny little home, especially since it will not require a car trip to get most anywhere and your home is too little to do much in. Certainly if you moved to get room to raise a family.

  • Itellyounothing

    If housing is no longer a vital capital investment, building a cheap large house makes more sense than a small well built home with a huge mortgage…….

  • Vinegar Joe

    Move to Hong Kong for a real taste of “tiny home” life.

  • Peter Melia

    Joe, above got it right. You might also try Japan, whilst at it.

  • Mr Ed

    Where will this all end? With people living in sleeper trains that shuttle them to and from London, and then take them to sidings in Yorkshire of an evening?

  • llamas

    ‘Micro-home’, or, as we used to spell it, back in the day, ‘tenement’.

    The goal is to create dependency. Large/detached homes allow for more independence, from all sorts of things.

    Note the drumbeat emphasis upon societal goals, not individual choices. This is, at root, a socio-political push to the Left. It should be resisted, like all the rest.

    llater,

    llamas

  • Brian Micklethwait (London)

    llamas

    My “drumbeat emphasis” is on individual choice.

    Do you think that renting out tenements or living in tenements should have been crimes? Sounds like maybe you do? If not, well then we agree.

  • Rob Fisher

    Reading the report, these micro-homes are aimed at single people in their 20s who want to be in London, as an alternative to a long commute or sharing a flat with strangers. Sounds reasonable to me.

    Many of the objections above along the lines of “whole families in one room”; “families have cars”; “tele-work”; “insistence on piling everyone together”; “they only really work in ultra-high density urban zones where there’s a lot to do outside”; “Large/detached homes allow for more independence” — are non-sequiturs.

  • Rob Fisher

    Here is an article about an existing development of micro-apartments in NYC: https://www.businessinsider.com/what-its-like-to-live-in-new-yorks-micro-apartments-at-carmel-place-2017-1?r=UK

    UK regs state minimum size of 37 square meters which is what Vera Kichanova wants changed. These NYC apartments are 25-33 square meters. It’s a sofa-bed, kitchen with table, and bathroom.

    For him, the apartment is more of “a place to crash” — except more fashionable than what he’d likely find on Craigslist. Trey’s thoughts mirrored what several other residents said: they don’t plan to spend much time inside the apartment.

  • pete

    Something tells me that living in micro homes will join being green and celebrating diversity as a ‘do as I say, not as I do’ topic for affluent people.

    We’ve already seen it before really, with groups like the CPRE telling everyone of the benefits of living in high density developments of small homes on brownfield sites on grim, urban, inner city sites while we can be sure that its members continue to live in nice homes in the country or leafy suburbs adjoining the green belt.

  • I lived on a 38-foot long micro-home called a classic ‘sailboat’ for several years recently, before a hurricane destroyed it. It forced me to get rid of all my stuff, which was liberating. I loved it, even though the Atlantic ocean is a harsh environment, even in and around Miami. Like everything else, micro-housing can either be a delight or a blight.

  • Nice idea these micro-homes but not in any recognisable way an answer to big city housing problems – quite the revers as they make it possible to move into the big city but nearly impossible (on a normal career trajectory) to do that other normal thing of getting married and having a family. It’s the Hotel California solution – you can check out but you can’t leave

    https://theviewfromcullingworth.blogspot.com/2019/01/welcome-to-hotel-california-asis.html

  • rosenquist

    I think micro homes are an excellent answer to many of the contemporary issues around housing, (along with scrapping planning laws and building more in the countryside) people are increasingly living alone and/or having less children and so we need to replace a model of housing based on homes for families and focus on housing for individuals.
    If I am not mistaken companies like google and facebook are already building onsite modular apartments for workers, I think this could be a good model for the future as well.

  • Agammamon

    Rob Fisher
    January 22, 2019 at 12:32 pm

    Many of the objections above along the lines of “whole families in one room”; “families have cars”; “tele-work”; “insistence on piling everyone together”; “they only really work in ultra-high density urban zones where there’s a lot to do outside”; “Large/detached homes allow for more independence” — are non-sequiturs.

    Where are you going to put them Rob? Out in the suburbs where there’s a long commute? Sure, a few (and for those that want them – go for it). Or in the city where you’d have to *lower* density to fit them in?

  • Mr Ed

    There are some interesting statements in the full piece, like:

    Notably, as the GLA report shows, those renting privately tend to have lower levels of unemployment and economic inactivity than both outright owners and social tenants, thus contributing most to London’s economic activity.

    How about factoring-in, those in work can rarely afford to buy, as property prices are hugely inflated relative to income, and the State houses deadbeats for free, and in the main, only retired people have managed to pay off their mortgages? It’s not that people who are economically active contribute to economic activity because they rent, perhaps they rent because their economic activity is insufficiently remunerative to enable them to buy? Cart and horse?

    Those who manage to find accomodation in the UK capital have to compromise significantly on their living standards. House prices in the UK are growing faster than in any other OECD country; unfortunately, the same does not apply to earnings (Hilber, 2015).

    Sounds like you have a crap standard of living and there are all the signs of a boom, which as Gordon Brown told us, means that ‘bust’ has been abolished.

    For centuries, house prices in London primarily depended on construction costs. Growth in demand was matched by increased building activity. Everything changed in 1947 when The Town and Country Planning Act was passed. From that moment on a permission was required for land development. Shortly after, the price of land started growing and pushed the price of houses upward.

    Indeed, but in 1946, the Bank of England was nationalised. Could someone look at the relationship between the growth of our money supply and house prices? I suspect that there are many factors involved. Improved productivity on building sites should make houses cheaper to build over time, unless quality is increasing or materials are getting scarce.

    The Metropolitan Green Belt was originally meant to give Londoners access to green space, only to limit their access to low-cost homes. Much of it today is, technically, not even green but comprises of wasteland with no particular aesthetic or environmental value (areas of outstanding natural beauty have their own, independent protection).

    Since ‘Green Belt’ land is, in the main, private property, why should ‘Londoners’ or anyone else, have access to it? Doesn’t London have some nice Royal Parks, municipal stabbing grounds and even Epping Forest?

    As a recent report by Goldman Sachs showed, millennials interpret their quality of life differently to the previous generation. Instead of a bigger flat in the suburbs, they prefer to live close to their workplace (and cycle or walk to the office if possible), even if that means living in a smaller unit. For them, renting a micro-apartment would be a close-to-perfect option.

    Funny that I can recall Scousers I knew who moved to London in the early 1990s in their mid-20s, and did just that, before moving out when they could afford to.

    The land in central, more densely populated areas, is also used in a highly inefficient way—half of Londoners live in buildings with just one or two floors.

    The bastards, absolute bastards, the half of them.

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