New Urbanism in Portland Maine? Micro-housing, Carsharing and Other Trends


A Portland developer hopes to cash in on the current appeal of chic city housing, with an innovative proposal for the corner of High and Danforth Streets. The building would contain 26 “micro units” – each 450 to 800 square feet – with shared lounges, laundry, and even guest rooms. One of the most intriguing features of the project is the concept of the condo owners sharing use of commonly-owned vehicles.

Publications as diverse as the Wall Street Journal and The Atlantic Monthly have noted the trend to “downsize” housing from the suburban McMansions that were built in the past 15 years to smaller spaces closer to town. The movement has been dubbed “micro-housing” by some, the “not so big house” by others.

Nudged by recent increases in home heating and gasoline costs, along with smaller household sizes as the Baby Boomer population pig pushes through the demographic python, many Americans are looking to downsize, and lots are looking to move closer to cities’ amenities, health care facilities and social life.

Which brings us back to the northeast corner of High and Danforth Streets in Portland, Maine.

Looking at this lot, it’s hard to imagine how one could squeeze 26 condo units (and the residents’ cars) onto it. The short answer is, it’s impossible, without thinking differently. Picture a building owned by an association of 20-somethings who may be buying their first real estate, and work within walking distance; older singles (50-60) attracted to downtown amenities; and out-of-towners seeking a Portland pied-à-terre. Imagine only 14 parking spaces under the building for those 26 units, two of which are for shared vehicles.

Green types applaud the project’s low-impact, pedestrian-centric design. Affordable housing fans like the promise of home ownership for those who might otherwise be shut out. New urbanists like the community orientation and the opportunity for people to walk to work, and “third places”. For developers, it allows maximum profit from a minimum parcel. And, because of the small sizes of the units, municipalities have considered variances to normal parking requirements.

For some people, this is a great idea. But it does pose some practical issues, not the least of which is how to insure them. More about that in our next post.

Questions about Maine condo insurance, homeowners insurance or Maine business property insurance? Want to get an insurance quote on your property? Contact Noyes Hall & Allen Insurance at 207-799-5541.