34 reasons concrete tubes are not the solution to the housing crisis

No, no, no, no, no, no, no. Image: Opod/James Law Cybertechture.

From everyone’s favourite purveyor of right-wing propaganda and pictures of ladies’ thighs, the Mail Online:

The OPod Tube Housing system aims to re-purpose concrete tubes measuring just over eight feet in diameter, and turn them into ‘micro-homes’ with 100 square feet of living space.

It is the brainchild of architect James Law of James Law Cybertecture who designed the build as a possible solution to the lack of both space and affordable housing in Hong Kong.

The article is headlined:

Is buying a house just a pipe dream? Concrete tubes just over eight feet wide, with a bench that turns into a bed, could be your solution

Okay. No, it absolutely couldn’t be. Here’s why.

1. People don’t want to live in a pipe.

2. Just because someone is young that doesn’t mean they should be happy to live in left-over industrial equipment.

3. The older generation never expressed any interest in living in pipes that I can recall. What gives them the idea that someone would feel differently, just because they were born after the Berlin Wall fell over?

4. From my experience of the youth, they don’t generally dream of sleeping on a bench that turns into a bed, either.

5. They’d probably prefer, y’know, a bed.

6. Also that looks a lot like a single bed. Are millennials not allowed to have sex now?

7. Are we expecting that the species is literally going to die out because of the housing crisis?

8. At least I’ll be able to say, “I told you so”.

9. Or I would, if I wasn’t dead.

10. “Each OPod is equipped with a living room/bedroom a mini-fridge, a bathroom, a shower and storage space,” we are told, which rather raises the question of where you prepare food.

11. I guess you could steam some vegetables in the shower, but that’s about the limit, isn’t it.

12. While we’re at it, 100 square feet is bloody nothing.

13. That’s 10 feet by 10 feet. That’s a not particularly large room.

14. Except this isn’t even that because, oh look, it’s a bloody pipe.

15. A number of adjectives automatically attach to the word “pipe” in my mind: damp, dank, stinking. Not one of these is an adjective that a normal person would type into the search bar on RightMove.

16. These pipes are only eight feet in diameter. I mean, that’s not much of a room, is it? It’d be like living in a corridor.

17. In fact effectively worse than living in a corridor because you would, in fact, be living in a pipe.

18. Another problem here is that, as I understand it, many millennials are terrified of pipes because of the plot of Harry Potter & the Chamber of Secrets.

19. Well, I say “many millennials”. I really mean, “One of my colleagues”.

20. But she seemed genuinely traumatised by the idea of living in a pipe.

21. “That’s where the basilisk is,” she said.

22. Also, pipes don’t tessellate.

23. What with being circles, and all.

24. I mean, look at all that wasted space between the pipes.

25. You’d waste space on the inside too, so you don’t even get the whole eight feet.

26. Given that the entire problem here is the scarcity of space to put homes, why on earth would wasting a bunch of space on literally nothing but pipe and the gap between pipes be of any use to anyone?

27. You’re restricted in how long a pipe you use as well, because people in my experience generally like light.

28. This looks like a bloody prison.

29. The problem major cities face in meeting housing demand is not construction cost, but land price. These pipes are solving the wrong problem.

30. Unless the problem they’re meant to solve is “millennials’ well-known fear of corners”.

31. When people push this stuff out, do they genuinely expect applause?

32. “Oh wow, some crumbs from the table!”

33. Isn’t it more likely that young people are going to be genuinely quite offended at the idea their parents’ generation expect them to live in a literal sewer?

34. I hate “visionary” architects.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and Facebook as JonnElledgeWrites.

Want more of this stuff? Follow CityMetric on Twitter or Facebook.

Images courtesy of Opod/James Law Cybertechture.


What's actually in the UK government’s bailout package for Transport for London?

Wood Green Underground station, north London. Image: Getty.

On 14 May, hours before London’s transport authority ran out of money, the British government agreed to a financial rescue package. Many details of that bailout – its size, the fact it was roughly two-thirds cash and one-third loan, many conditions attached – have been known about for weeks. 

But the information was filtered through spokespeople, because the exact terms of the deal had not been published. This was clearly a source of frustration for London’s mayor Sadiq Khan, who stood to take the political heat for some of the ensuing cuts (to free travel for the old or young, say), but had no way of backing up his contention that the British government made him do it.

That changed Tuesday when Transport for London published this month's board papers, which include a copy of the letter in which transport secretary Grant Shapps sets out the exact terms of the bailout deal. You can read the whole thing here, if you’re so minded, but here are the three big things revealed in the new disclosure.

Firstly, there’s some flexibility in the size of the deal. The bailout was reported to be worth £1.6 billion, significantly less than the £1.9 billion that TfL wanted. In his letter, Shapps spells it out: “To the extent that the actual funding shortfall is greater or lesser than £1.6bn then the amount of Extraordinary Grant and TfL borrowing will increase pro rata, up to a maximum of £1.9bn in aggregate or reduce pro rata accordingly”. 

To put that in English, London’s transport network will not be grinding to a halt because the government didn’t believe TfL about how much money it would need. Up to a point, the money will be available without further negotiations.

The second big takeaway from these board papers is that negotiations will be going on anyway. This bail out is meant to keep TfL rolling until 17 October; but because the agency gets around three-quarters of its revenues from fares, and because the pandemic means fares are likely to be depressed for the foreseeable future, it’s not clear what is meant to happen after that. Social distancing, the board papers note, means that the network will only be able to handle 13 to 20% of normal passenger numbers, even when every service is running.

Shapps’ letter doesn’t answer this question, but it does at least give a sense of when an answer may be forthcoming. It promises “an immediate and broad ranging government-led review of TfL’s future financial position and future financial structure”, which will publish detailed recommendations by the end of August. That will take in fares, operating efficiencies, capital expenditure, “the current fiscal devolution arrangements” – basically, everything. 

The third thing we leaned from that letter is that, to the first approximation, every change to London’s transport policy that is now being rushed through was an explicit condition of this deal. Segregated cycle lanes, pavement extensions and road closures? All in there. So are the suspension of free travel for people under 18, or free peak-hours travel for those over 60. So are increases in the level of the congestion charge.

Many of these changes may be unpopular, but we now know they are not being embraced by London’s mayor entirely on their own merit: They’re being pushed by the Department of Transport as a condition of receiving the bailout. No wonder Khan was miffed that the latter hadn’t been published.

Jonn Elledge was founding editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and on Facebook as JonnElledgeWrites.