Singapore: The Reluctant World Capital of Tiny Homes

The city-state is on its way to being overrun with pint-sized condos. The government wants it to stop.

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Reuters

We admittedly have something of a tiny home obsession here at The Atlantic Cities, what with Emily Badger admitting her desperate love for photos of tiny homes, Sarah Goodyear discovering a supersmall backyard bungalow in Brooklyn, and all of us generally ogling a conceptual apartment of just one meter square. But these are small homes on a small scale. To see tiny residential development writ large, meet the housing market of Singapore.

The city-state has become a hotbed of super-small housing in recent years, as developers have gone on a building spree of what have derisively been called "shoebox units." These small apartments – most 500 square feet or less, and often housing half a dozen people – are on their way to dominating the housing market in the city. At the end of 2011, there were 2,400 shoebox units, according to Singapore's Urban Redevelopment Authority. By the end of 2015, there will be more than 11,000. Home sales in Singapore hit a three-year high recently, mainly due to the purchase of these very small apartments. And with scarce land space and rising home values, smaller is sometimes the only way people can afford to live.

Though 11,000 units might not seem like a lot for a city of 5 million, the city is sufficiently worried about the trend to stop it before it can spread beyond the city core and out into the more suburban areas. The URA recently announced a new set of rules discouraging new developments outside the central part of the city that consist primarily of these smaller units. The rules, which will take effect in November, acknowledge that shoebox units are wanted and needed in the city, but officials are hoping they can limit just how much of Singapore becomes concentrated with towers full of small apartments and many, many residents.

It's a legitimate concern. The infrastructure in the areas surrounding these projects wasn't built to accommodate the added road traffic, water use and electricity demand that the significantly higher populations in these shoebox towers bring. Officials in Singapore want to have more control over just where in the city these hyperdense populations can and should go.

Photo credit: Tim Chong / Reuters

About the Author

  • Nate Berg is a freelance reporter and a former staff writer for CityLab. He lives in Los Angeles.