San Francisco Considers Teeny-Tiny Apartments: Is Shoebox Living the Future?

Posted by Meghan Neal

It’s a conundrum any urban dweller is all too familiar with: not enough space, a constant influx of people, and skyrocketing rent prices.

Some cities believe the answer is to shrink the minimum apartment size, to build 'micro-units' for singles and couples. The San Francisco Board of Supervisors is currently considering a proposal that would allow living spaces as small as 150 square feet, plus a kitchen, bathroom, and closet—somewhere between the size of a parking space and a one-car garage. 

The immediate goal is to create more housing and lower rent prices, which in San Francisco climbed 15 percent last month alone. The city already has next to no vacancy, and sees a steady stream of tech professionals drawn in by Silicon Valley. What's more, the newcomers are often singles or couples moving into units designed for families.

With more and more young people opting for urban living, a slew of towns are rethinking their housing plan to accommodate the movement. Boston is talking about shrinking the minimum unit size from 450 to 350 square feet, and New York recently introduced the adAPT challenge to design 275-300 square-foot apartments in Manhattan, addressing the fact that some 800,000 people are expected to move to the Big Apple over the next 20 years, and there's only room for about 100,000 of them.

But these micro-units are also part of the growing "small living" lifestyle, which advocates say has benefits well beyond real estate. Graham Hill, the founder of Treehugger, has been championing the less-is-more movement for some time now. His latest venture, LifeEdited, advocates for paring down your life to make room for happiness, and changing the consumer mentality that has dominated American culture for decades.

"Part of this trend is that people are realizing, that's not really what life is about. Interacting with your family and your neighborhood and your city—that's what life's about," says Hill. "And so small living sort of forces that interaction more."

Opponents worry such small quarters would compromise quality of life, or at least set things down a slippery slope, SF Public Press reports. But Hill argues that what you gain from urban living and life simplification make up for what you lose in square footage. Density fosters more human interaction, which means more ideas floating around and ultimately, innovation. “The city is your living room,” he says.

Still, fitting your home into a 12x12-foot space is going to mean making some sacrifices. This is where "editing your life" comes into play. If you're a fashion lover, maybe it's worth keeping those 12 pairs of jeans, but if not, why bother? If you don't like to cook, a 2-burner stove instead of a full-sized should suffice, says Hill.

Multi-functionality is paramount. The idea is to create a space that morphs depending on the need at the time. Furniture companies are beginning to sell combination pieces, like dining room table/beds, kitchen table/desks—anything that can get double or triple duty out of a general area, when the various activities don't tend to take place at the same time.

Small living also encourages sharing resources, or "collaborative consumption," says Hill, which reduces each individual’s carbon footprint. The idea is to shift from ownership to access, he says. So, an apartment complex might have a "product library" full of items that are expensive, take up space, and aren’t used often that’s accessible to and shared by all residents. 

"I really think in a lot of these categories, ownership—in 10, 15 years—will be for suckers," says Hill. "We're just sort of in the beginning of this, but this is absolutely the future."

Image via LifeEdited.com