This is a Guest Post by Kent Lundberg, who is an Urban Planner at Isthmus where this blog post was first published.
Little ol’ New Zealand made global news a few days back with a story about our extreme house prices. The article included the oft repeated “lack of supply” as one of the primary culprits. Without getting into the green fields issue there’s an interesting conversation emerging from North America in regards to providing supply (and satisfying demand) and this is through reducing apartment size requirements and facilitating design innovation.
I don’t know much about New York City specifically, but I’m pretty sure they aren’t suggesting more greenfield development as a solution to their affordability problem. Instead what the City of New York is doing is experimenting with its minimum size restrictions for apartments. A design competion called “adAPT NYC” will test the current zoning limit of 400 Sq feet (37m2), with 250 sq ft (23m2) units using city-owned property.
The design competition involves a Request for Proposals for a rental building composed primarily, or completely, of micro-units – apartments smaller than what is allowed under current regulations. New York City’s housing codes have not kept up with its changing population, and currently do not allow an entire building of micro-units. Under this pilot program, Mayor Bloomberg will waive certain zoning regulations at a City-owned site at 335 East 27th Street in the Kips Bay neighborhood of Manhattan to test the market for this new housing model.
Here is what Mayor Bloomberg said about the needs to address housing affordability through design:
Developing housing that matches how New Yorkers live today is critical to the City’s continued growth, future competitiveness and long-term economic success,” said Mayor Bloomberg. “People from all over the world want to live in New York City, and we must develop a new, scalable housing model that is safe, affordable and innovative to meet their needs.
According to this NY Times article, the market is naturally moving towards smaller units as well.
“…the sweet spot for studios in new rental buildings is now “close to 400 square feet,” said Yuval Greenblatt, an executive vice president of Prudential Douglas Elliman, who has managed residential rentals for the past 15 years. “Ten years ago,” he added, “they would build closer to 500 square feet wherever that could be achieved.”
Interestingly, these new apartment designs recognise the value of sharing resources as a way to cut down on space– from shared lounges and rooftop gardens to car sharing services. This is the the powerful intersection of the “small-living” trend, the urban renaissance, and the “life-edited” concept promoted by Treehugger founder Graham Hill.
Meanwhile other globally relevant cities are following suit. San Francisco is currently considering a proposal that will allow apartments of 150 square feet (14m2) and Seattle is experimenting with “aPODments”, where:
Each “unit” takes up an entire floor of the five-story building, and consists of seven or eight separate living areas (each with a bedroom, ranging from 100 to 200 square feet) that connect to a central kitchen and living area.
Here is a video of an architect experimenting with small sizes in San Francisco.
I could see these solutions being very popular to a small but significant slice of the population in Auckland. Currently the minimum sizes for studios in Auckland is 35m2 and 45m2 for 1-bedroom units.