New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s announcement early last month that the city will sponsor a pilot program to incorporate rental units of less than 300 square feet as a new housing model for the city has since touched off discussion as to what these units might look like—and what life will be like for those living in them.

The contest, adAPT NYC, is part of the city’s New Housing Marketplace Plan, which will create or refurbish 165,000 units into energy-efficient affordable housing by the end of 2014. The city’s housing, preservation, and development department held a pre-submission conference for potential design teams Tuesday at the American Institute of Architects’ Center for Architecture. The deadline for proposal submissions is Sept. 14, 2012.

While the footprint of an average single-family home is getting bigger—2011’s average of 2,480 square feet is up almost 4 percent from 2010— these suites’ smallness hasn’t sent architects, designers, or urban planners reeling. Instead, they’re echoing claims by the planning commission and other advocates that a growing number of young adults are flying solo in the city, short on cash, and more interested in what’s going on outside their homes than what they could do inside—perhaps making it easier to reconcile the notion that their couches and beds are one in the same.

Brooklyn, N.Y.-based Jordan Parnass Digital Architecture, which does studio renovations, told The New York Times that there is a market for super-small spaces, and that those individuals want units that pack functionality without losing on aesthetics.

“I know they’re out there; I know they’re struggling with this,” the firm’s creative director Darrick Borowski told the Times. “But there’s a higher awareness now that you don’t have to suffer through it. You don’t have to move to the suburbs.”

It’s a struggle many city dwellers choose to partake in, Inhabitatwrites. And it’s yielding some pretty savvy design, including a 420-square-foot unit that, among other specifications, can host a 12-person, sit-down dinner party.

Small footprints are gaining traction outside urban centers, too. Curbedspotlights five small houses whose sizes are countered by mountain views, waterfront proximity, and for one, a set of wheels that lets its owners pick up and go.

Other metros are taking cues from New York. Construction crews last week broke ground on a mixed-use complex in Boston’s Seaport district that will host apartments as small as 450 square feet.  San Francisco is considering micro units of at least 150 square feet plus a kitchen, bathroom, and closet—nearly half the current 290-square-foot minimum. Developers involved in that city’s proposal told theSan Francisco Chronicle that additional third spaces throughout the buildings would counter the lack of space in individual units with a price tag below the current market rate.

"I believe there is a large and unmet need for entry-level, car-free housing in a transit rich and culturally rich city like San Francisco," developer Patrick Kennedy told the Chronicle. "A smaller unit size makes meeting this need more feasible and gives people a choice not available now."

Read more about the adAPT NYC contest from our sister publication, BUILDER magazine.