What Do Micro-Apartments and Churches Have in Common?
- Tuesday, September 25, 2012
On the one hand, Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s idea makes sense.
New York City’s provocative mayor has invited some of the world’s best architects and designers to submit ideas for tiny apartments suitable for single adults.
Think single-room-occupancy with an emphasis on the “single,” not “room.”
Indeed, if you’ve ever lived in New York City, and Manhattan in particular, you know most apartments there are already tiny. And pricey. Now, the same mayor who wants to outlaw super-sized soda containers wants his city’s singles population to take up less space. Bloomberg thinks offering The Big Apple’s unmarrieds even smaller apartments could lower rents and create more apartments for more single residents.
How small is small? Try 300 square feet – or less. That’s just a bit more wiggle room than an average parking space.
And those bargain rents New York’s billionaire mayor envisions? How about $1,500 per month for the privilege of occupying a sliver of the city’s rarified real estate? If you think you’re paying too much where you live, maybe $1,500 per month for 300 square feet will help put things in perspective.
As you might imagine, reaction to Bloomberg’s idea mixes a bit of incredulity with a dose of resentment. After all, Bloomberg, himself a divorcee with two grown daughters, owns both a lavish townhouse and a Park Avenue condominium. What right does he have saying other single adults should make do with far less space?
Currently, city code forbids individual apartments smaller than 400 square feet. If developers sensed that New York’s real estate market held significant demand for something even smaller, wouldn’t they be petitioning the city to change the zoning? Doesn’t it smack of imperiousness for officials like Bloomberg and his hand-picked administrators to claim they know what The Big Apple’s unmarried residents want and need?
Oddly enough, New York isn’t the only city in this race to build the smallest possible apartments. In San Francisco, local developers are pushing for zoning changes to permit apartments of an incredibly miniscule 150 square feet. That makes Bloomberg’s proposed 300 square foot threshold positively extravagant by comparison!
Believe it or not, advocates for such micro-apartments say that with some creativity, small spaces can be surprisingly usable and accommodating. They help occupants avoid becoming hoarders, since there simply isn’t any space for anything you don’t need. They’re environmentally-friendly, since they reduce the carbon and geographic footprints individual households require. And besides, in big cities, single adults generally don’t spend much time in their apartments anyway. They’re either working late at the office, or out on the town with friends.
However, some critics fear that introducing such small apartments in high-rent cities could actually inflate the value of conventional studio apartments, further exacerbating a lack of affordable housing. Alternatively, putting what are essentially crash pads into buildings with larger apartments could negatively affect the value of the building as a whole. Would such small spaces be conducive to long-term occupancy? Might turnover be extraordinarily high, as tenants quickly tire of the tight-squeeze novelty?
Providing apartments for people who may have little vested interest in contributing to their building’s community could further decrease its livability factor. Anybody who’s ever rented in an apartment building knows it stays cleaner, quieter, and safer the more tenants take ownership of their space. Incorporating what amount to miniature hotel rooms into a rental building – or creating an entire building full of these micro-apartments, could perpetuate the phenomenon of anomie. Anomie can be described as the ability of people to develop patterns of alienation as they rationalize away their opportunities for interpersonal socialization.
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