Sometimes I miss the East Coast. Don’t get me wrong, Denver is a great city. Winters can suck, sure, but they suck pretty much everywhere outside a handful of southern coastal cities like Miami and Los Angeles. Generally, though, the weather here is pretty great. And we don’t have to worry about earthquakes or hurricanes. Colorado’s nature is revered; Denver has beautiful parks. There’s no shortage of nightlife regardless of your preferred genre. The restaurant scene is blossoming. No matter what, you can always find street parking.
But it’s not the East Coast.
There’s something intangibly alluring about America’s great cities along the Eastern Seaboard. The history is amazing, of course. But even once you get past the the antebellum charm of Atlanta, the Jeffersonian lineage of Philadelphia, and the majesty of DC (or, conversely, the tragedy of antebellum Atlanta’s plantations and gentrification of DC’s neighborhoods most ruined in the 1960s race riots), there is something there. A grittiness, an authenticity. Neighborhoods and businesses with roots older than the city of Denver itself which, founded in 1858, is comparatively a baby.
The party scenes are lively with storied clubs and plenty of century-old industrial warehouse space to misappropriate for manic underground parties. New York arguable birthed the club scene.
Yeah, the East Coast is pretty great. Except for that whole cost-of-living thing.
In DC we paid close to two grand for a first-floor 500 square foot box with bars on the windows in Logan Circle. Zero amenities: No dishwasher, no washer/dryer, no gym, and definitely no swimming pool or party room. Oh, and street parking? That didn’t happen. So we payed another few hundred for a parking spot.
These days–in the more coveted areas of the city (including Logan Circle)–average (not median) rents on one-bedrooms are pushing $3K. Rent is expensive. What’s a young person who wants urban living at suburban prices to do?
Go micro, apparently. “Micro-units” are the hottest new thing in DC real estate. Other coastal cities like Seattle, Los Angeles, and New York are also experimenting with them. What is a micro-unit? Well, first of all, they’re not marketed with that name. No, The Harper, a building that opened this year on 14th Street describes its apartments as “contemporary studio, junior one-bedroom and one-bedroom apartments, created with the discerning urban resident in mind.”
Ok, so what is a junior one-bedroom apartment? Well, it’s a micro-unit: A one-bedroom apartment as small as 250 square feet. 250. That’s how many square feet come in a typical box of aluminum foil. People are paying more than $2000 per month to live in an apartment approximately the size of their mom’s walk-in closet. The average apartment in the building is 411 square feet and rents run as high as $3,350. And a lot of people are going all in on this. The Harper has leased 97% of it’s apartments and it only opened in January.
In The Washington Post (h/t, guys), Michael Korns, a co-developer of the building, says, “It’s very expensive to build in D.C. and the only way to get the rents down is to make smaller units. Our goal is to provide housing that is relatively affordable for people who want to live on 14th Street.”
Fair enough. And the developers brought in some inventive fancy-pants architects to make the spaces as gorgeous and functional and non-claustrophobic as possible. Check the pictures at the Washington Post–some of them are admittedly gorgeous. But bottom line is that you’re paying more than the median American mortgage payment for a…well, what’s the opposite of a McMansion? It’s the same mindset on a smaller scale: Residents sacrificing for luxuries like proximity to nightlife, “high-quality finishes and fixtures…oak floors, stainless-steel kitchen appliances, movable islands, and Bosch washers and dryers.”
No thank you. I’m happy in a city that provides all of the amenities a metropolitan city should and yet still somehow allows me to live in luxury in a desired neighborhood for less than two grand. Denver works.
p.s. decent-sized apartments right next door are starting at $800/month.