People think of New Yorkers as livingin very small spaces, but for 50 years our housing regulations have worked to steadily increase the permitted minimum size of all new apartments in the city.

Now mayor Michael Bloomberg is launching a pilot scheme to test a reversal of this thorny policy. As we watch the calls for more generous space standards in the UK, we hope New York city’s storywill serve as a cautionary tale.

The road to space standards is always paved with good intentions.New York developed America’s first laws and codestoregulate housing density in response to the appalling squalor of the slums, conditions that even shocked Charles Dickens when he visited in 1842. These rules were expanded in the 1950s when the movement to keep middle-class families from moving to the suburbs was labelled as an attempt to eradicate housing options for single adults.Minimum sizes for new apartments were established at roughly 40 square metres. Disincentives against the construction of studios and small one-bedroom apartments were introduced, and minimum standards were also set for individual rooms.

By the time Bloomberg’s administration predicted that our population would top nine million by 2030, it became clear that our 21stcentury households were now severely mismatched with a housing stock largely designed for the nuclear family of the 1950s.

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