Peter Berkowitz graduated from the prestigious University of Chicago and made his name in New York City as a freelance illustrator with gigs at the fanciest magazine in America. Today, he lives in an 8' x 4 1/2' "pod" inside his friend's San Francisco living room. But he claims the move was fueled by neither poverty nor desperation.
"It doesn't sound appealing to say, 'I'm gonna build myself a box,'" Berkowitz tells me. "The ideas people conjure up don't sound nice, and I don't blame them for that."
So why, then, would an adult human being choose to live in a place so cramped that he can't even stand up to put on pants? The 25-year-old is actually just the latest example of people willing to go to extremes just to be in a city where the average cost of a one-bedroom apartment is $3,670. The head-spinning rapidity of gentrification in the Bay Area has forced homeless people into tent cities, but it's also inspired a Google engineer to live inside a truck to save 90 percent of his income.
Berkowitz, who grew up outside of New York, decided to move to the West Coast to be near his brother. He was originally in Oakland, but kept poking around on Craigslist looking for something across the bay. That's about when he was struck with the idea for the box, and asked a friend if he would float it to his three roommates. They all said yes, agreed on $400 for the rent price, and Berkowitz took his first foray into woodworking––ultimately spending $1,300 to erect the miniature domicile. The walls just went up two and a half weeks ago, and today he basically lives in an IKEA bed frame that extends to the ceiling.
Meanwhile, the man's possessions have been dispersed between his parents and his brother.
Berkowitz, who is single, swears it's nice in there––and soundproof, too. "If I meet someone and that person is disgusted by the idea of a box, then maybe I should be spending time with someone more akin to myself," he says. "It's not a disgusting place to be. I'm not being unreasonable when I say it's nicer than most people's bedrooms."
In true San Francisco spirit, Berkowitz is already turning his idea into a startup. The goal is to help people avoid paying almost $900 to live in a tent, and to help renters supplement their incomes by hosting their own box-dwellers. Berkowitz promises a reasonable price for the pods, because he's more focused on honing his craft than making a ton of cash.
Presumably, that same mentality landed the guy in the pod in the first place, but he's far from alone. Homeownership is but a distant dream to most millennials. And the places they can afford are far from desirable to most of the educated young people who think life is a brunch-fueled quest to "find themselves" rather than a rat race to make money. According to a Zillow report from last year, the best places to live when it comes to both affordable rent and job growth include Las Vegas, Phoenix, and Jacksonville, Florida. But when was the last time you've heard of anyone moving there?
It seems like we're moving toward a future in which many educated young people are crowded into three or four cities, scratching one another's eyes out over limited real estate and cobbling together freelance jobs to make ends meet. But when you see people moving into boxes and tents and trucks to make it work, an actual apartment in an allegedly bland city like Houston starts to seem more palatable.
So what do these kinds of stories tell us about the changing dynamics of class in America? Now that people at the top of their fields willingly subject themselves to such cramped quarters just to be in a trendy city like San Francisco, does that mean the definition of "upper class" will soon be determined not just by your neighborhood or block but by the spatial dimensions of your living capsule?
Berkowitz says this is probably not a sustainable living solution, but that he's totally fine with it for the foreseeable future.
"I don't think I'll raise my family in a pod," he tells me. "But I'm not ruling it out."
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