Tiny Apartments in Cities: Trending Concept

This is really a good video on the subject.

From Stewart Brand 

“Dec. 17, 2013

As more people across the country are living alone, the costs of rent and real estate are soaring in many urban areas. Cities like New York and Vancouver are trying to get the most out of available apartment space by creating “micro” apartments. Many of these apartments are smaller than what was previously allowed under the law.

SHAWN GROFF: It’s about 260 square feetŠ and everything is really compact, it’s gotta be multifunctionalŠ

MONA ISKANDER: Shawn Groff is a 26-year-old employee at Whole Foods, who lives in a building that consists solely of what are known as micro-apartments.

SHAWN GROFF:  We’re standing in every room, we’re standing in my kitchen, living room, dining room and my bathroom is just around the corner.

The table comes upŠ.

MONA ISKANDER: His dining room table is alsoŠ his bed. For about $950 a month, he learns to make do with his 260 square foot space.

SHAWN GROFF: If I have company and I need another chair, I can use my coffee table again and maybe even pat it down and they can enjoy as well.

MORE: Take a tour of a micro-apartment

SHAWN GROFF: This is a solution for people like myself, perhaps in the stage of my life where I don’t have that many things and don’t need that much space. I’m not really home that often. You ask yourself what you really need and if you’re honest about that, a lot of things become unnecessary.

MONA ISKANDER: He happens to live in Vancouver, Canada, one of the first North American cities to embrace the tiny living concept. But the idea is catching on in a number of cities in the United States as well… like Seattle, San Francisco, New York, Boston, Washington D.C., Providence and ClevelandŠ they’ve all been pursuing projects to develop this new model. It’s an idea may be new to North America but countries like Japan have for years looked to micro apartments as a solution to high urban density.

SARAH WATSON:  There’s very little — housing restrictions in Tokyo.  So, the housing really does correspond with the population need.

MONA ISKANDER: Sarah Watson is the deputy director of a non-profit research group in New York: the Citizens Housing and Planning Council. For the last five years, the organization has been studying new concepts in housing. Watson says the number of people living by themselves in the United States has increased dramatically — In the ’40s and ’50s it was less than 10 percent. Today, that population is closer to 30 percent. Špeople are getting married later, getting divorced at higher rates than they once did and are living longer. And Watson says the supply of housing for single people hasn’t kept up with this changing demographic.

SARAH WATSON: If the population changes but there’s not housing supply to follow, what happens is people start going underground and living informally. And that’s why you see this huge growth in the Craigslist market, people trying to make room in housing stock that’s not designed for it.

MONA ISKANDER:  And the problem is only going to get worse. For instance, New York’s population is expected to rise by approximately 600,000 people by the year 2030. That’s about an 8 percent increase.

SARAH WATSON:  We can’t just keep building taller buildings. So, there has to be some new ways to accommodate these people within it.

So this whole space is 325 square feetŠ

MONA ISKANDER:  So her organization lobbied to convince Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s administration to consider new types of housing in New York, including micro-apartments, like this one on display at a recent exhibit at the Museum of the City of New York.

MAYOR MICHAEL BLOOMBERG: This is for big cities-particularly cities that attract young people-going to be a very big problem coming down the road, and this is the first step that we’re taking to try to find a solution.

MONA ISKANDER: In a city where space is at a premium, Mayor Bloomberg launched a pilot project to be developed on city-owned land on Manhattan’s east side. Each of the 55 prefab units will be housed in a single building. And each will be less than 400-square-feet. In order to do that, Mayor Bloomberg said he would waive zoning regulations put in place in the 1980s to protect against overcrowding. Construction is set to begin this December or January.

MONA ISKANDER: So, it’s basically an experiment.

SARAH WATSON: Right. It’s an experiment. And the city’s using it to — to properly test what happens if you just relieve a few elements, a few controls, really to see what– the options could be.

MONA ISKANDER: New York’s micro-unit building will require that 40 percent of the units are rented at an “affordable” rate. This being New York, the word “affordable” is relative. The rent for those tiny subsidized apartments will be between $940 and $1,800 a month. That’s actually quite low for the neighborhood.

JOHN INFRANCA: This for many cities this is actually a selling point.

MONA ISKANDER: John Infranca is a law professor at Suffolk University in Boston who studies affordable housing and land use policy.

JOHN INFRANCA: I think it’s good for cities in terms of being able to retain– young professionals, recent college graduates who might otherwise be priced out of the city. You know, that’ll add a certain, you know, dynamism to the city. Boston, for instance, is really pushing that front, that they want to retain their recent graduates who otherwise can’t afford to live there. And — and those graduates are gonna be important for the city’s — broader economy to grow.

MONA ISKANDER: But there has been backlash. In Seattle, community groups have voiced concerns that these units crowd too many people together and that they make neighborhoods less stable as young people come and go. In Vancouver, critics worry that micro-apartments will replace housing for the poor. For example, the apartment building where Shawn Groff lives, used to be a single room occupancy building. Locals complained its residents were being forced onto the street.

MONA ISKANDER: I mean, critics say that these are really geared towards young — high-income people who are moving to the city for the first time.  It’s not really addressing the needs of — lower-middle-income, workers who also need the housing–

SARAH WATSON: A lot of these pilots that are happening in cities are definitely on the higher end — because they’re happening in high value areas, but– but we believe if you could really think through the design concepts of these small spaces and situate them in other locations, you know, you can — you’re really changing the price point for that. And you can target different populations.

SARAH WATSON: We have a small one drawer dishwasherŠ

MONA ISKANDER: And Watson believes micro-units make sense for the way many people live today.

SARAH WATSON: There’s a reason why this is catching on in the country because, you know, you can live quite comfortably now with your music collection and your– you know, your books all on — a very tiny laptop. I mean, it’s actually transformed our need for space in the last five years, technology. So, you couple that with new transformable furniture and you can really maximize a small space in a positive way.

Credits: Renderings of New York micro-apartments courtesy of nARCHITECTS.

About Lloyd Kahn

Lloyd Kahn started building his own home in the early '60s and went on to publish books showing homeowners how they could build their own homes with their own hands. He got his start in publishing by working as the shelter editor of the Whole Earth Catalog with Stewart Brand in the late '60s. He has since authored six highly-graphic books on homemade building, all of which are interrelated. The books, "The Shelter Library Of Building Books," include Shelter, Shelter II (1978), Home Work (2004), Builders of the Pacific Coast (2008), Tiny Homes (2012), and Tiny Homes on the Move (2014). Lloyd operates from Northern California studio built of recycled lumber, set in the midst of a vegetable garden, and hooked into the world via five Mac computers. You can check out videos (one with over 450,000 views) on Lloyd by doing a search on YouTube:

4 Responses to Tiny Apartments in Cities: Trending Concept

  1. makes me think of IKEA's smartly designed, in store, living area displays.
    walk thru those and you can see how small spaces really are more efficient.
    hopefully these ideas will filter down to other segments of the population.

  2. That's insane. You shouldn't be paying more than $600 for 350 sq. ft. yet they want how much according to this article?! Young people, don't be fooled! Respect yourself. You need space to think big thoughts. You need room to throw a ball in the air or pace for 15 feet in a straight line while you think. Cram yourself into too small of a space and you'll only concentrate on how you're living in a cage. If you can't think bigger you'll never escape the cage.

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