Advantages of Small Space Living Part 2

Apartments and Condominiums Part 2

By Karina Gafford
In our previous article, we looked at the growing trend toward small space living in cities where "normal" studios are increasingly finding themselves replaced by the trendier, more budget friendly microstudios of 200 or so square foot. Microstudios have many advantages, most notably providing a more affordable urban accommodation in otherwise expensive cities, such as Toronto, New York, and San Francisco. Despite offering better pricing, 200 or even 300 square foot simply does not provide enough space for most families, particularly those with children, no matter how creative the developers of these remote-controlled, transformer-like, Murphy-bed-meets-desk-meets-dining-table transfigurations of these miniscule living spaces. That does not, however, mean that families cannot enjoy the advantages of smaller space living; they just do not have to endure 200-300-square foot dwellings in order to do so. The wake of the recession has given rise to the proliferation of multi-dwelling units (MDU’s), meaning apartments or condominiums, for smaller-scale, urban living. Of the many advantages offered by MDU’s, the most notable are proximity to amenities, a sense of community, security, and convenience.  
United States Air Force spouse Karla Overturf recently faced the decision of whether to move to a small space. Overturf explained, "After 25 years of living in a traditional house," which she described as, "backyard, fence, [and located] on a cul-de-sac or a quiet street," she wanted a change. "We thought we were ready to branch out," she continued, "Our dream was to live in a move-in ready high-rise with all the trimmings, and a neighborhood with fun restaurants and shops." As Overturf points out, one of the biggest advantages of most MDU’s is that high-density living generally comes with walkable amenities. 
Many of the newer buildings highlight the advantage of proximity to amenities in MDU living by creating dedicated retail space for convenience stores, restaurants, and day spas as a component of their building plans. Monroe Square at Del Ray East, a new MDU development by national developers Clark Builders Group, plans to open in Alexandria, Virginia, with 276 units and 3,500-square foot of retail space in September 2014. Near Fort Jackson in South Carolina, Alan B. Kahn developed a more open plan MDU that is reminiscent of a small, walkable village, hence the name "The Village at Sandhill." Kahn described his vision for an MDU with retail space as one with "an atmosphere in which people can meet, stroll, shop, dine, live, work, enjoy a movie and other entertainment, or just have fun." Stonebridge at Potomac Town Center in Woodbridge, Virginia, near Marine Corps Base Quantico and Fort Belvoir had the opposite planning method of Clark Builders and Kahn, creating retail space first and then building apartments on site much later. With 500,000-square foot of retail space, a large fitness center, and a grocery store on site, the 308 apartments currently under construction should easily find many prospective residents eager for the convenience of the MDU lifestyle presented at this location.  
Not only does the walkable proximity to restaurants and shops help provide a ready-made neighborhood but also the communal style of MDU living helps to foster a sense of community that suburbia simply cannot recreate. Residents of an MDU meet and greet (that part is optional!) their neighbors on the way to garage rather than simply driving in and out of their remote controlled garages. Many MDUs offer outdoor fire pits, community events, pools, game rooms, lounges, and fitness centers. The sense of community extends beyond any contrived activities created by an apartment or condominium management team though; instead, the sense of community comes simply from regular interaction with one’s neighbors. 
Lisa Robinson, a Resident Services Representative for national property management company UDR Properties, firmly believes that MDU living provides a strong sense of community. "Apartment buildings create a family environment," she explained, "I know all of neighbors." For Robinson, the family concept of MDU living extends much further, "I grew up in an apartment with my family…we lived on the same floor as grandma. My aunt and uncle lived [in a separate apartment] upstairs…my single aunt living on the fourth floor." Robinson’s experience of having extended family living in the same building is not typical of the experience of military families who must move every couple of years or so, but even though Robinson no longer lives around her extended family, she explains of her choice to remain in apartment communities as, "I need that style of family environment." Robinson, a mother of two and full-time employee in the building, appreciates that her neighbors and friends are close-by should she ever need someone to care for her children at a last-minute notice. 
Many MDU communities can also further the sense of community created by offering themselves as pet-friendly buildings. While most privately owned condominium communities are already pet-friendly, apartments are now following suit. A lot of large MDU communities located near The Pentagon and the Mark Center are centrally managed by national property management companies, such as Windsor Communities, Bozzuto, Kettler, and Archstone are leading the trend in creating pet-friendly accommodations with dog runs, pet waste stations, pet courtyards, dog bathing stations, and enclosed dog parks. Since she knows so many of her neighbors through their pets, Robinson explained that she often helps care for pets for her fellow neighbors if they cannot return home in time for walks. Given that the pet is simply down the hallway or perhaps up the stairs, it is not too inconvenient to quickly attend to the needs of a neighbor’s dog.
Given that many of the newer high-rise buildings previously mentioned offer the option of permitting larger dogs, an individual living alone can learn to feel quite secure inside of an apartment in the company of a 75-pound dog whose ferocious growl would easily deter any would-be intruder. Not everyone needs or wants to own a dog though; they are a huge responsibility! MDU’s, however, can offer greater security in the form of gated garage entrances, video cameras installed inside garages, front desk security, or smart key locking systems for individual hallways and doors. Not every building offers such security measures, but even though an MDU may not offer professional monitoring services, simply knowing one’s neighbors and having many individuals around can provide a far greater sense of security than living alone, particularly when a spouse is deployed. Robinson explained that she finds great security in "having a lot of people around at all times because there’s always someone to run to in an emergency situation." In a health emergency, neighbors are much closer by than in any suburban community, and, increasingly, most condominiums are fitted with health emergency provisions such as defibrillators. In the event of a heart attack, the use of a defibrillator doubles a person’s chance of survival. Who knew condominium living could possibly save your life? "For me," Robinson concludes, "living in a building with others…it’s almost like a security thing."
Perhaps one of the biggest draws to MDU and small space living is convenience. For busy parents, students, young professionals, single adults, military professionals, and retirees alike, the convenience of not having a yard to mow, gutters to clean, or worry about taking time off work to meet with repairmen when something breaks makes MDU living quite attractive. Despite the appeal of easier livig, Overturf’s family determined that downsizing just was not quite right for their family at this time. After viewing several popular MDU neighborhoods in the Arlington and Alexandria areas, located near The Pentagon and Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall, Overturf explained that "Our 16 year old daughter and 10 year old dog had different ideas."  In addition to their PCS, the internal hallways and lack of private outside space beyond a patio or balcony presented simply too much of a transition of lifestyle for the family. "When it came right down to it," she continued, "…we still wanted to walk out our door and be in a yard.  We did take the baby step of moving to a townhouse - so our yard is a tiny fenced square - no mowing required."  
Despite the transition from a large single-family home to a condominium not suiting her family’s needs for their most recent PCS, Overturf remains positive that MDU living represents the future for her family. "We are a bit closer than we were before," she explained of their townhouse, "we are moving in the right direction.  Maybe our next place will be in that condo we dreamed of." For Robinson who grew up in apartments and has lived in them for her entire life, she appreciates the advantages that MDU living has provided for her and her family. Single-family home dwelling does indeed have its benefits and MDU living its drawbacks, but given the opportunity to move every couple of years or so, military families do have the wonderful opportunity to experience a different style of living. For those planning a move or PCS-ing to an urban area, perhaps you may want to consider some of these benefits that MDU living may provide.