The arrival of micro-condos is signalling a shift in the way Vancouverites want to live their lives in the heart of the city. The population of the downtown core nearly doubled between 2001 and 2011, with an increase of over 26,000 residents according to census data.
This growing population density demands space maximization, and Reliance Properties Ltd. is attempting to do just this by developing 226- and 291-sq. ft. “micro-lofts” in Gastown.
According to Jon Stovell, president of the company, the project caters to a demand for urban housing opportunities at a price point not available before.
The demand for micro-condos also speaks volumes about the downtown core.
“[These micro-condos] suggest the centre of the city is liveable, and people do want to live there and I think when you find cities that have very small units you have to understand that in many cases people also live their life in the space of the city,” says George Wagner, associate professor of architecture at the University of British Columbia.
The new lifestyle associated with these micro-condos sees people opting to use the city as their backyard in lieu of the grassy ones that many of us grew up with. Considering access to water and the extraordinary number of parks Vancouver has to offer, it is questionable how much of a sacrifice this really is.
“I think people like the social quality [of living in the city]. Not having to rely upon a car, not having to get into a car every time you want to move and having access for social space,” adds Wagner.
Despite the continuous labelling of these apartments as micro, apartments of a similar size and smaller are common in the centres of other cosmopolitan cities. A 300-sq. ft. studio in central London was recently billed as “spacious.” In Paris, 97-sq. ft. is the smallest legal size, with many students living in these chambres de bonne. Tokyo boasts apartments that are slightly smaller, but much more systematic in their configuration, according to Wagner.
“Here it ends up being more or less all one room with a bathroom off of it. In Japan, every unit will have a small outside balcony. That’s not common here,” says Wagner.
As the city pushes through the growing pains of an increasing population, Stovell is confident these micro-condos will be on the increase in the housing market. But micro-housing isn’t going to become the new norm, he says.
“[Rather], it’s a broadening of the housing spectrum,” he says.
Micro-condos are usually only a temporary housing solution for people in Vancouver, practical only during a certain stage in one’s life. Housing in the downtown core is so expensive that it is challenging for families to stay there.
“When people start to breed they have to leave … and I think that’s very sad,” says Wagner.
Simply put, there is no panacea to the woes of housing in Vancouver. Micro-condos won’t solve the problems of astronomical housing prices or homelessness, but they do represent an innovative attempt at overcoming the challenges inherent in the growth of this young city.