A series about how cities change and what impact this has on everyday life.

In a busy area of ​​south London, close to a busy tube station and a network of bus routes, a tiny house sits in a dumpster.

The 27 square meter plywood house has a central footprint; Wall shelves for storage (or seating); a kitchen counter with a sink, hotplate and toy-sized refrigerator; and a mezzanine with a mattress under the vaulted roof. There is no running water and the bathroom is an outdoor portable toilet.

The Skip House is the creation and home of Harrison Marshall, 29, a British architect and artist who designs community buildings such as schools and health centers in the UK and abroad. Since he moved into the rent-free dumpster (known as a “skip” in Britain) in January, social media videos of the space have attracted tens of millions of views and dozens of inquiries in a city where studio apartments go for at least $2,000 can be rented one month.

“People are having to move into smaller and smaller apartments, micro-apartments, tiny houses, just to make ends meet,” Marshall said in a telephone interview. “There are of course benefits to a minimal living, but that should be a choice rather than a necessity.”

Social media platforms are having a blast with microapartments and tiny homes like Mr. Marshall’s, bringing curiosity about this way of life to life. The small spaces have captivated viewers, whether they’re responding to rising property prices or a boundary-pushing alternative lifestyle seen on platforms like YouTube channel Never Too Small. While there are no exact numbers on the number of tiny houses and micro-apartments on the market, the social media attention hasn’t necessarily resulted in viewers flocking to move in, perhaps because it’s difficult at times can be to live in the rooms.

Mr Marshall noted that 80 per cent of those who contacted him expressing interest in moving into a house like his in the Bermondsey area were not serious and that “most of it is just chatter and chatter.”

In his opinion, tiny homes are romanticized because luxury living is overexposed. “People are almost numb to social media,” he said. Mr Marshall said people were more interested in content about the “nomadic lifestyle or living off the grid” that ignored the downside: gym showers and an outdoor portable toilet.

The rush to big cities after the pandemic has pushed rents to new record highs and increased demand for affordable housing, including spaces barely larger than a parking space. But while social media audiences may find this lifestyle “relatable and entertaining,” as one expert put it, it’s not necessarily an example they’ll follow.

Viewers of microapartment videos are like visitors to the Alcatraz federal prison in San Francisco Bay who “walk into a cell with the door closed,” said Karen North, a professor of digital social media at the University of Southern California.

Social media users want to see what it’s like at the “unusually small end” of the housing scale, she explained.

“Our desire to be in touch with different people – including influencers and celebrities or people who live in different places in different ways – can be reflected on social media because we feel like we are building a personal connection,” says she said.

Pablo J. Boczkowski, a professor of communications studies at Northwestern University, said that despite the belief that new technologies have a powerful impact, millions of clicks do not lead people to fundamentally change their lifestyles.

“Based on the data we have so far, there is no basis to say that social media has the ability to change behavior in this way,” he said.

While these small spaces aren’t a common choice, residents who take the plunge face real pressure. For people who want to live and work in big cities, the housing situation after the pandemic is dramatic. According to a report from real estate agent Douglas Elliman, the average rental price in Manhattan was $5,470 in June. Citywide, the average rent this month is $3,644, reports Apartments.com, a listing site.

In London the housing picture is similar. In the first three months of this year, the average asking rent in the British capital hit a record of about $3,165 a month as residents who had left the city during the lockdown flocked back.

Urban residents in Asia face similar burdens and costs. In Tokyo, the average monthly rent reached a record high for the third month in a row in March. Currently the rent is about $4,900.

When Ryan Crouse, 21, moved to Tokyo in May 2022 from New York, where he was a business student at Marymount Manhattan College, he rented a 172-square-foot microapartment for $485 a month. Videos from his Tokyo studio went viral, garnering 20 million to 30 million views across all platforms, said Mr. Crouse, who moved to a larger studio in May this year.

The centrally located apartment where he lived for a year had a tiny bathroom: “I could literally put my hands from wall to wall,” he said. The room also had a sleeping area on the mezzanine under the roof, which was scorching hot in the summer, and a sofa so small he could barely sit on it.

When it comes to micro-studios, “a lot of people just like the idea rather than actually doing it,” he said. They enjoy “a glimpse into other people’s lives.”

Mr Crouse believes the pandemic has sparked curiosity. During the lockdown, “everyone was on social media, sharing their spaces” and “their lives,” and videos of apartment tours went “crazy,” he said. “It really brings light to small spaces like this.”

Curiosity about social media seemed to reach a fever pitch for Alaina Randazzo, a New York-based media planner, during the year she lived in an 80-square-foot, $650-a-month apartment in midtown Manhattan. There was a sink but no toilet or shower: these were at the end of the hallway and were shared.

After spending the past six months renting in a luxury high-rise that “was eating up my money,” she said downsizing was a priority when she moved into the micro studio in January 2022.

Unable to do dishes in her tiny sink, Ms. Randazzo ate from paper plates. There was a skylight, but no window to let out cooking smells. “I had to be careful about what clothes I bought,” she recalls, “because if I bought a coat that was too big, the question becomes: Where should I put it?”

Still, videos of her micro-apartment have received tens of millions of views on TikTok, YouTube and Instagram, she said. YouTube influencers, including one with a cooking series, filmed on location in her micro-studio, and rappers messaged her asking her to do the same.

“The pictures make it look a little bigger than it actually is,” said Ms. Randazzo, 26. “There are so many little things you have to maneuver in these apartments that you don’t think about.”

Microstudios have a “cool factor” these days, she said, because “you’re selling someone a dream”: that they can be successful in New York and “not be judged” for living in a tiny apartment. Plus, “our generation likes authenticity,” she explained, “someone who actually shows authenticity” and tries to build a career and a future by saving money.

But it wasn’t the kind of life Ms. Randazzo could live for more than a year. She now lives in a large New York townhouse where she has a spacious bedroom. She doesn’t regret her microapartment: “I love the community it has brought me, but I definitely don’t miss banging my head on the ceiling.”

Source : www.nytimes.com

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