Fat Americans in tiny apartments: Something’s gotta give

Two trends are about to collide in two great American cities, it seems: our obesity epidemic, and really tiny apartments.

This could get ugly in a hurry.

My colleague Lee Romney reported this week on San Francisco’s proposal to allow 220-square-foot apartments. (Actually, they would be 150 square feet of living space but 220 when you add the bathroom, kitchen and closet; presumably you are not expected to sleep in either the closet or the tub.)

Meanwhile, in New York, Mayor Michael Bloomberg is pushing a pilot program to create apartments of no more than 300 square feet. The Times’ Tina Susman reports that the wee places must include “a kitchen, a bathroom with a tub, and windows that look out on air, not air shafts.”


Which is thoughtful but raises the question of just how many windows you need/want/can have in a 300-square-foot place. And does this mean that larger places can still look out on air shafts? And what is an air shaft, anyway?

Fortunately for New Yorkers, Bloomberg has already thought through the obesity vs. small apartment conflict, having waged successful campaigns against trans fats and super-sized sugary drinks in his city. But San Francisco is lagging a bit on this front, unless you count its ban on Happy Meals toys.

People wonder, though: Can a person actually live in that little space? Does a person want to live in that little space?

Allow me to reminisce. You see, as a child, I lived the “Little House on the Prairie” lifestyle.

Dad was a construction worker, and we moved around a lot, so we had a mobile home: five kids and two adults in a 50-feet-long-by-8-feet-wide trailer, to be exact. Plus a dog or cat or two. I’m not good at math, but if you divide up the living space, my guess is it wasn’t 300 square feet per person (or so I recall my teenage sister screaming once in a while).

Now, it’s true, we were all thin. (Somehow, soft drinks in those days, of which I consumed many, did not add to my waistline.) It wasn’t luxurious, but we managed; also, it wasn’t city living -- the outdoors were readily available to us -- but I recall the years in that trailer with fondness.

Later, we actually bought a home, but my affection for cramped spaces continued: My room was a small walled-off section of the basement (well, it was walled-off with bamboo curtains). Later still, as a college student in Hawaii, my first apartment was 300 square feet, plus a lanai (patio to you mainland types). That too wasn’t so bad (OK, sure, it was Hawaii).

So yes, a person can live large in a little space. But do increasingly fat folks already crowded together in cities such as New York or San Francisco really want to live in such tiny quarters?


Well, as the Republicans like to say, let the market decide. After all, you can lead a person to an apartment, but you can’t make him rent it.

And you want my guess? Knowing Americans and real estate, the first thing that will happen is that the places will sell out.

And then folks will buy two or three and tear down the walls to expand.

As Dr. Seuss might say: Property is property, no matter how small.



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