American Cities Seek Young Creatives With Micro-Apartments

This summer we brought you word that New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg was launching adAPT, a design competition aimed at bringing a whole lot of tiny apartments to the Big Apple. But as Architectural Record reports, this push toward living units of 300 square feet or less (or, micro-apartments) isn’t just a New York thing. It’s now a San Francisco, Berkeley, and Boston thing too. What gives?

Increasingly, cities are seeking ways to accommodate more people in the same amount of space. At the same time, many mayors are seeking to attract those particular types of people that tend have an outsized positive impact on the local economy, the sector of the workforce documented by Richard Florida in his 2003 bestseller The Rise of the Creative Class that can loosely be characterized as young creatives. Whether artists or web designers, software programmers or bloggers, those most amenable to moving are likely to be at the start of their careers, rather than the apex, and don’t have the kind of cash required to land one of those pricey condos downtown. But they’re not the type of folks content to commute from the ‘burbs, either.

Micro-apartment, SoMa

image via Architectural Record / Panoramic Interests

The micro-apartment is, essentially, a way to create affordable housing in those bustling city centers preferred by young creatives — those who, as writer Fred A. Bernstein puts it, are willing to trade “bed width” for “bandwidth.”

Toward that end, San Francisco’s supervisor Scott Wiener has introduced a proposal that would reduce the city’s minimum apartment size from 290 to 220 square feet. The proposal is expected to come up for a vote this month, and if enacted would pertain only to new construction, so landlords don’t take the hatchet to existing apartments in the interests in pulling in a little more cash.

Just over the bridge in Berkeley, Patrick Kennedy with the developer Panoramic Interests has created a 160-square-foot prototype apartment in a Berkeley warehouse. In San Francisco’s SoMa (South of Market Street) neighborhood, the same company is working on developing twenty-three 300-square-foot units, prefabricated in a factory in Sacramento. (The development is expected to be ready in time for Panoramic to show it off at San Francisco’s Greenbuild convention this November.) The company has its eye on several other markets, including Washington, D.C., Chicago, Santa Monica, Calif., and Portland, Ore.

Brooklyn micro-apartment

image via Erin Boyle

Micro-apartments are also in the works for In Boston’s Seaport Square neighborhood, which Mayor Thomas Menino envisions as an “innovation district.” Portland-based developer Gerding Edlen, with the support of the mayor, currently has a project in the works that will convert a former warehouse in the area into 27 apartments ranging in size from 400-500 square feet — small, if not actually micro.  The living spaces here — which are being marketing as “innovation units” — might be small, but the building itself will come equipped with meeting and office facilities aimed at helping young creatives housed in the development launch and build new businesses.

Susan DeFreitas has covered all manner of green technology for EarthTechling since 2009. She is a graduate of Prescott College for the Liberal Arts and the Environment, and has a background in marketing green businesses. Her work on green living has been featured in Yes! Magazine, the Utne Reader and Natural Home.