When people talk about the world’s most crowded cities, they always mention New York, London, Tokyo and Hong Kong, where famously, shower-heads are often found to have been fitted directly above toilets, or worse (see the picture above). But how does everybody else live around the world? How much space (for everyday living, for seasonal storage) do people have in other countries?
There’s a lot of confusing info out there. Due to data difficulties, it’s difficult to compare across countries. Lack of information, old data, and differences in criteria get in the way. Most of the information we can gather is observational, gathered by word of mouth.
To start on a positive note, Germany has to be the world’s number one when it comes to storage space at home. Almost eighty per cent of people there rent, mostly in blocks of flats, and each flat has a Keller, or cellar assigned to it in the rental agreement. With European climates having such clearly contrasting seasons, you really need somewhere to store your winter stuff in summer, and your summer stuff in winter. Storage cellars are the norm also in neighbouring Switzerland, where even higher numbers rent, and Austria, where they are often filled with wine and/or skiing equipment. Yes, the clichés are true sometimes!
UK residents just have to grin and bear it, as the saying goes. For most of the population, there’s no two-season storage. People just live with all their stuff, year-round, or use self-storage (hence the boom there too). According to one Guardian article on living space in London, even five years ago, one couple had to keep their vacuum cleaner at their mother’s house, twenty minutes away, while somebody else always had their kitchen bin in the middle of the kitchen floor. Another stored their shopping in their car boot.
The smallest new homes in Europe are built in the UK, and they are dramatically smaller than those built there a hundred years ago. Ceiling heights, not covered by ‘square’ measurements, are famously low enough to cause mental health problems. The average floor space of a new dwelling in England and Wales is 76 square metres, compared to 81.5 in Italy, 92 in Japan and 115 in Holland – all just as densely populated as the UK. The reasons are simple: builders make more money that way, helped by the UK’s lack (uniquely in Europe), of minimum-space standards for new housing.
While New York’s overcrowding problems have long been associated with stress, substance abuse and domestic violence, it seems that the growth of self-storage facilities as an everyday reality is bringing huge benefits to overcrowded cities – which is why it’s still very much on the rise.
Here in Malaysia, space also seems to be a growing problem, according to everyone I’ve spoken to. Admittedly, these people were living in Penang and KL, the nation’s most densely-populated areas. That doesn’t mean all houses are smaller than in other countries, though. From what I’ve seen, many Malaysian houses are a lot more spacious than UK ones, though most public housing here is quite small. Like everywhere, it all depends on how many people you share the house with.