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The Rise Of Micro-Apartments: Urban Singles Living Small

Apartments in big cities are more expensive than ever. Micro-apartments, though not necessarily a solution to soaring rent prices, are cropping up in an effort to provide cheaper urban housing to more people.

Tiny spaces, big trends

Minimalism comes in all forms. Take what some call the tiny house movement: a trend that values quality of space over quantity, living in a tiny house is typically a lifestyle choice rooted in a desire for simple, economical and ecologically friendly habitation.

Both tiny house and tiny apartment owners share commonality in regards to space and affordability; the main difference is the former’s more rural setting as opposed to the latter’s urban one.

While the tiny home owner values the relative financial and physical autonomy of a small house, and will often custom-build accordingly, micro-apartments are pre-built to attract urbanites willing to take less space in exchange for lower rent.

The rise of micro-apartments

The growing trend of micro-apartments, which are usually more or less than 300 square feet (about 28 square meters), correlates with a rising percentage of single person households, which reached 27 percent (pdf) in 2012.

In New York City, 33 percent of adults are single livers; in Washington DC, as many as 40 percent are. That’s a lot of people without a rent-splitting roomie.

Micro-apartments are especially appealing to young adults living in expensive cities like New York, Seattle, Tokyo, and London. Communal spaces offered by the residence itself or locational amenities and nightlife mean, for some urbanites, that sacrifice in personal space is made up for in social space and prime locale.

Other times, micro-apartments may serve as second homes for commuters, who find “crash pads” more affordable and convenient than hotels.

For developers, architects, and city planners, micro-apartments are a way of keeping up with changing demographics and population increase — an innovative, eco-friendly solution to a challenging shift in urban landscape.

Smart design

Like tiny houses, micro-apartments benefit from smart space-saving design and furnishing. Collapsible furniture, skinny toasters, foldable dining sets, sofa-beds, makeshift lofts, and more are offered by both big furnishers like IKEA and niche lines that specialize in transforming furniture.

In 2013, in NYC’s Mayor Bloomberg launched a contest called adAPT to find the most innovative micro-unit design as a model for the city’s newest, and tiniest, micro-apartment residences.

The downside

Not everyone is super keen on micro-apartments. For one, small spaces have been known to psychologically damage minds — and while this effect is usually exclusive to prisoners (whose cells are ¼ of a micro-apartment), health experts warn that when people (especially those in their 30s and 40s) live in cramped quarters, it could lead to increased rates of domestic or substance abuse.

Attempting to raise children in such a small space is also a bad idea, psychologists say, as they can become withdrawn and struggle with studies as a result. Placing focus on micro-spaces could drive families out of the cities at worst, or at least ignore their specific needs in favor of well-to-do couples and singles.

Another complaint has been that piling people into small spaces can negatively impact neighborhoods by overpopulating them, making parking difficult, traffic heavier, and increasing volume both in regards to noise and  street density.

The takeaway

As career-minded young people delay marriage longer whilst being drawn into to the appeal and perks of urban lifestyle, demand for space in crowded, expensive cities, and the trend of micro-apartments will likely keep rising.

And as population continues to increase, in general, along with growing concern over land and energy use, we can expect architecture that saves money and space to become a staple of living environments in cities where the rent is just too damn high. Let’s just hope, on a whole, that the cramping comes with minimal damages.

Originally published on October 23, 2014. 

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Jennifer Markert