Is Smaller Better?

Few issues have sparked as much speculation as Mayor Bloomberg’s announcement last week for a pilot project to develop residential micro-units measuring 275 to 300 square feet.

Affordability is the primary driver here, especially for the demographic coming in—young folks who are looking for opportunity in the City. And while I love Brooklyn and other boros – and the fact that much of the influx to some of the best neighborhoods is driven by affordability, I also believe that  all should have an opportunity to live in Manhattan affordably.

With the young people continuing to stream in – according to the Department of City Planning, the population will reach 9,120,000 in 2030, up from 8 million people in 2000 – there is plenty of need to add this type of housing to the city’s mix.

Bloomberg’s plan is to waive the city zoning laws for this pilot project, which will yield approximately 80 units at about $2,000 per month at 335 E. 27th Street in Manhattan’s Kips Bay—a perfect neighborhood, as it’s long catered to young professionals where the tenement housing stock isn’t known for its expansive floor plans.

“I think it’ll be fun to see some creative submissions,” says Amy Schoeman, project manager at Smart Cities Advisors, who develops in emerging market cities. “It’s a step in the right direction. Bloomberg is thinking outside the box, but he needs to make units that are at a more reasonable price.”

This makes sense, of course. Everything is smaller. The way that we plan apartments these days has dramatically changed because the things we need for life are smaller. Telephone?  No need for one. Computer? Can fit like a book on a bookshelf when not in use. TV? Hung on a wall (that alone has reduced the need for living room width when planning by at least 12 inches!). Also, most people don’t cook—they order in or eat out. Who needs a big kitchen?

With 1.8 million one- and two-person households in the City, and one million studio and one-bedroom apartments, the current math doesn’t add up.  Borrowing upon a solution that’s been pioneered in London, Tokyo and Seattle makes sense to me.

Given the choice between the allotted 400 square feet minimum currently allowed and illegal communal living, my bet is they’ll be no shortage of prospective tenants or developers seeing to democratize the market. And with apartments being chopped up into tinier apartments, this is what’s going on anyway…let’s legitimize it.