Welcome to the era of 'micro apartments'

In the Brave New America of downsized energy use and consumption, we had better get used to having less, if the left continues to get its way.  And in coastal blue cities – New York, Boston, and San Francisco – that means making way for micro-apartments of roughly 360 square feet, smaller than a two-car garage.  Jennifer Peltz of the Associated Press reports on the experimental lowering of zoning standards in Gotham to test out an anticipated wave of tiny dwellings.

 The apartments in a new Manhattan building boast little balconies, tall ceilings, dishwashers and storage space. All in 360 square feet or less.

It's micro-living in the nation's biggest city, and New Yorkers could be seeing more of it. Planning officials are proposing to end a limit on how small apartments can be, opening the door for more "micro-apartments" that advocates see as affordable adaptations to a growing population of single people. Critics fear a turn back toward the city's tenement past and question whether less space will really mean less expensive.

At Carmel Place, the Manhattan building that marks the city's first experiment in decades with building super-small dwellings, the pitch is that little can be just enough.

"An efficiently designed micro-unit," says developer Tobias Oriwol, "is just a nice apartment."

Due to open early next year, Carmel Place features 55 apartments ranging from 265 to 360 square feet. By comparison, a typical one-car garage can be about 200 square feet.

As an experimental project, Carmel Place got city land and a waiver from New York's 400-square-foot minimum on new apartments, set in 1987. A proposed elimination of that minimum would allow smaller studios in buildings with a mix of apartment sizes, but entire micro-unit buildings would continue to need waivers.

"For us, it was really important to demonstrate how small space could be an enhancement to quality of life," said Christopher Bledsoe of Stage 3 Properties, which designed the interiors and amenities at Carmel Place.

I am of two minds on this.  Unquestionably, it is a lowering of living standards to provide less space per person than in the past.  And in fact, until very recently, America has seen a tremendous increase in the amount of living space per person that we provide.  The standard suburban house of the 1950s postwar building boom was roughly 1,600 square feet, whereas these days in most suburbs, the average is more like 2,500.  And mega-houses are not uncommon.

But that phenomenon is largely in the lower-cost cities of the interior.  The micro-apartment phenomenon is limited to very rich coastal cities, mostly with land development constrained by geography and regulation.  The San Francisco Bay Area, probably the most expensive in the nation these days, has huge tracts of land off limits to development, resulting in sky-high prices for the remaining land.

But my other mind on the subject tells me that if people really want to live in Manhattan or San Francisco or Boston and are willing to put up with small living spaces, why not?  That is how people in Paris, Tokyo, and London live, for instance.  In my years in ultra-expensive Tokyo, I had several apartments even smaller than 360 square feet.  A relative who lived in Paris similarly had a tiny apartment.  People in those cities spend a lot of time outside the home, at restaurants, cafés, and other public gathering spots.  The streets are lively and full of people.  It is a fun lifestyle for the young and single crowd.  Families, not so much.

The local IKEA store here in Emeryville, at the foot of the Bay Bridge and serving SF, features a number of model rooms for a tiny apartment, with everything built in and totally efficient.  They are cute.

As a lifestyle choice, this is fine.  As a lowering of living standards, take it a sign of what liberalism brings to blue cities – even the prosperous ones.  The other kind – places like Detroit – have vacant houses so plentiful they are a health hazard.

In the Brave New America of downsized energy use and consumption, we had better get used to having less, if the left continues to get its way.  And in coastal blue cities – New York, Boston, and San Francisco – that means making way for micro-apartments of roughly 360 square feet, smaller than a two-car garage.  Jennifer Peltz of the Associated Press reports on the experimental lowering of zoning standards in Gotham to test out an anticipated wave of tiny dwellings.

 The apartments in a new Manhattan building boast little balconies, tall ceilings, dishwashers and storage space. All in 360 square feet or less.

It's micro-living in the nation's biggest city, and New Yorkers could be seeing more of it. Planning officials are proposing to end a limit on how small apartments can be, opening the door for more "micro-apartments" that advocates see as affordable adaptations to a growing population of single people. Critics fear a turn back toward the city's tenement past and question whether less space will really mean less expensive.

At Carmel Place, the Manhattan building that marks the city's first experiment in decades with building super-small dwellings, the pitch is that little can be just enough.

"An efficiently designed micro-unit," says developer Tobias Oriwol, "is just a nice apartment."

Due to open early next year, Carmel Place features 55 apartments ranging from 265 to 360 square feet. By comparison, a typical one-car garage can be about 200 square feet.

As an experimental project, Carmel Place got city land and a waiver from New York's 400-square-foot minimum on new apartments, set in 1987. A proposed elimination of that minimum would allow smaller studios in buildings with a mix of apartment sizes, but entire micro-unit buildings would continue to need waivers.

"For us, it was really important to demonstrate how small space could be an enhancement to quality of life," said Christopher Bledsoe of Stage 3 Properties, which designed the interiors and amenities at Carmel Place.

I am of two minds on this.  Unquestionably, it is a lowering of living standards to provide less space per person than in the past.  And in fact, until very recently, America has seen a tremendous increase in the amount of living space per person that we provide.  The standard suburban house of the 1950s postwar building boom was roughly 1,600 square feet, whereas these days in most suburbs, the average is more like 2,500.  And mega-houses are not uncommon.

But that phenomenon is largely in the lower-cost cities of the interior.  The micro-apartment phenomenon is limited to very rich coastal cities, mostly with land development constrained by geography and regulation.  The San Francisco Bay Area, probably the most expensive in the nation these days, has huge tracts of land off limits to development, resulting in sky-high prices for the remaining land.

But my other mind on the subject tells me that if people really want to live in Manhattan or San Francisco or Boston and are willing to put up with small living spaces, why not?  That is how people in Paris, Tokyo, and London live, for instance.  In my years in ultra-expensive Tokyo, I had several apartments even smaller than 360 square feet.  A relative who lived in Paris similarly had a tiny apartment.  People in those cities spend a lot of time outside the home, at restaurants, cafés, and other public gathering spots.  The streets are lively and full of people.  It is a fun lifestyle for the young and single crowd.  Families, not so much.

The local IKEA store here in Emeryville, at the foot of the Bay Bridge and serving SF, features a number of model rooms for a tiny apartment, with everything built in and totally efficient.  They are cute.

As a lifestyle choice, this is fine.  As a lowering of living standards, take it a sign of what liberalism brings to blue cities – even the prosperous ones.  The other kind – places like Detroit – have vacant houses so plentiful they are a health hazard.