Micro Units, A New Trend in Urban Planning

June 15, 2018

In 2012, the oldest indoor shopping mall in America underwent “a historic revival” and became a complex of micro lofts and micro shops in the heart of downtown Providence, Rhode Island. The Arcade Providence, a building that had withstood fires, hurricanes, and economic downturns since 1828, was falling apart. In the early 2010’s, private investors funded a “makeover” that repurposed the building while maintaining it’s historic structure. Now, the arcade is comprised of 48 micro apartments, a new trend in urban development in American cities.

What is a Micro Unit?

Unlike a micro house, a micro unit, or micro apartment, is an individual studio apartment attached to a high density, multi-family housing building or complex. The small unit can be anywhere from 200 to 500-square feet, depending on the city, since the size is usually determined by the market.

Micro-apartments usually encompass a kitchen, bathroom, common living space with furniture, and areas of built-in storage. The units tend to have high ceilings and large windows that create a spacious-feeling living environment.

Micro Units Gaining in Popularity

Micro units have been on the rise in urban neighborhoods and are particularly sought by certain groups of people such as millennials and “empty nesters”. Here are a few reasons why micro apartments have become popular in the past decade.


Many twenty-something millennial’s are looking for small apartments in cities where they are close to work as well as social gathering spots such as restaurants and bars as well as retail shops. Micro units offer the ideal amount of space for single young adults who do not yet have many belongings and are looking to live in cities where they can start their careers.

“Empty nesters” have also been attracted to micro units because of the desire to downsize. The small square footage of micro units allows for people to move into a small living environment and have less extra space to worry about.


The rise of micro apartments has been driven by a number of economic factors. When major cities have a high demand for apartments, they can struggle to maintain a supply that satisfies the demand, leading to an increase in apartment costs. Micro units attempt to solve this dilemma by offering a higher density of residents in a smaller amount of space. The smaller size of micro apartments also makes the unit costs relatively smaller.


One of the main appeals of micro units is their location in the United States. Micro apartment developers have capitalized on millennials’ longing to live in smaller spaces in neighborhoods convenient to work and recreation by constructing complexes in the heart of several major American cities.

Micro apartments can be found in cities such as Seattle, Portland, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Washington D.C., Chicago, Boston, Austin, and New York. In Providence, the micro lofts of the Arcade Providence are located in the heart of the city; walking distance from numerous restaurants, bars, stores, and office buildings.


Since micro units are smaller in square footage compared to other apartments, many developers make up for the space by providing various luxuries to their renters. Some examples include shared storage areas, laundry rooms, fitness rooms, and lounge zones.

The micro lofts at the Arcade Providence depict an example of increased apartment amenities. An individual micro apartment includes a kitchen with an almost full-sized refrigerator, sink, dishwasher and microwave, a full bath with shower, and built-in beds, seating and storage. The building offers on-site laundry facilities, additional lockable storage, and communal spaces such as a common room with flat screen TV, Wi-Fi and porches, all locked by the coded security access for residents. Outside of the building, residents are granted access to a bike ramp leading directly to a bike storage room and parking is available at two nearby garages for a discounted monthly fee.

Today, there is a diversity of apartment renters with people of all ages and all needs. While micro apartments can be particularly appealing to single people, they are ideal for anyone that wants to live in a small, affordable space located in close vicinity to lively city neighborhoods.