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MICRO UNITS



Published: Sun, January 27, 2013 @ 12:00 a.m.

New York City extols virtues of tiny apartments

Associated Press

NEW YORK

Sam Neuman jokes that he doesn’t casually throw off his coat when he gets home at night — it would take up half his apartment.

Such is life in his walk-up studio a few blocks from Manhattan’s bustling Times Square. At 280 square feet, the apartment is barely the size of a one-car garage, with just enough space for a bed, a desk, a TV stand on one wall and a kitchen against the other.

“I’ve developed this weird Stockholm Syndrome, which you identify with your captors,” said the 31-year-old publicist. “When I go to other people’s apartments, I think, ‘Why do they need more than one bedroom?’ I’m really very happy here. There’s not really time to let things accumulate because ... where would I put them?”

The Big Apple is legendary for its legions of residents who live in really, really small apartments. Many of them are fiercely proud of it and can even find the humor in their cramped quarters.

Now the city is about to see just how small New Yorkers are willing to go.

With the population and rents expected to keep climbing, New York City planners are challenging architects to design ways to make it tolerable — even comfortable — to live in dwellings from 370 square feet to as small as 250 square feet.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg last week announced the winner of a competition to incorporate those designs into an apartment complex to be built on Manhattan’s east side next year featuring 55 “micro units.”

The aim is to offer more such tiny apartments throughout the city as affordable options for the young singles, cash-poor and empty nesters who are increasingly edged out of the nation’s most expensive real-estate market.

If the pilot program is successful, New York could ultimately overturn a requirement established in 1987 that all new apartments be at least 400 square feet.

Smaller living is a concept already endorsed by some cities. San Francisco recently approved construction of apartments as small as 220 square feet. And Tokyo and Hong Kong have long offered tiny units.

As a way to get New Yorkers to think small, the Museum of the City of New York has opened an exhibit featuring a fully furnished 325-square-foot studio apartment that incorporates the latest space- saving designs. There’s the bed that folds out over a couch, a padded ottoman containing four nesting chairs, a fold-out dinette table tucked under the kitchen counter and a TV that slides away to reveal a bar.

Other amenities in the 12-foot-by-24-foot model include a bathroom that is 5 feet 9 inches by 7 feet 9 inches, a refrigerator and separate freezer tucked under the counter, and the holy grail of New York apartments, a dishwasher. The Murphy bed, like most of the features, glides out with only a light touch of the hand.

“It’s almost like a space shuttle or an ocean liner in how it’s designed,” said Donald Albrecht, the co- curator of the exhibition.

On Manhattan’s west side, it doesn’t take long for 67-year-old school finance director Jack Sproule to give a tour of the studio apartment he owns with his wife.

At 290 square feet, there’s just enough room for the bed that folds into the wall, a kitchenette and an adequately appointed bathroom, which Sproule jokes is the only place to escape when there’s an argument.

But the signature feature is the picture window at the far end of the unit.

“Look at that view,” Linda Sproule said, pointing to the sprawling expanse of Central Park.

The let’s-get-small initiative taps into that trade off — an ultra-tiny apartment for the opportunity to live in one of the world’s great cities.

It grew out of a confluence of sobering statistics. New York City is projected to grow by about 600,000 people by 2030.

A third of the city’s households consist of just one person, a percentage that climbs to 46 percent on the island of Manhattan.

Residents face average market-value rents of $2,000 a month for a studio apartment and $2,700 a month for a one-bedroom.

Newly constructed tiny apartments, depending on location, are expected to go for the price of a current studio but would have the added state-of-the-art amenities.


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