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NEW YORK – The Big Apple is legendary for its legions of residents who live in really, really small apartments. Many of them are fiercely proud of it and can even find the humor in their cramped quarters. Now the city is about to see just how small New Yorkers are willing to go.

With the population and rents expected to keep climbing, New York City planners are challenging architects to design ways to make it tolerable – even comfortable – to live in dwellings from 370 square feet to as small as 250 square feet.

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg on Tuesday announced the winner of a competition to incorporate those designs into an apartment complex to be built on Manhattan’s East Side next year featuring 55 “micro units.”

To make up for the shoe-boxlike dimensions, the building will offer residents common spaces such as a rooftop garden and lounge area on nearly every floor. The aim is to offer more such tiny apartments throughout the city as affordable options for the young singles, cash-poor and empty-nesters who are increasingly edged out of the nation's most expensive real estate market.

If the pilot program is successful, New York could ultimately overturn a requirement established in 1987 that all new apartments be at least 400 square feet. Smaller living is a concept already endorsed by some cities. San Francisco recently approved construction of apartments as small as 220 square feet. And Tokyo and Hong Kong have long offered tiny units.

As a way to get New Yorkers to think small, the Museum of the City of New York is opening an exhibit today featuring a fully furnished 325-square-foot studio apartment that incorporates the latest space-saving designs.

It includes a bed that folds out over a couch, a padded ottoman containing four nesting chairs, a fold-out dinette table tucked neatly under the kitchen counter, and a television that slides away to reveal a bar.

Other amenities in the 12-by-24-foot model include a cute bathroom that is 5 feet, 9 inches by 7 feet, 9 inches, a refrigerator and separate freezer tucked under the counter, and the holy grail of New York apartments: a dishwasher. The Murphy bed, like most of the features, glides out with only a light touch of the hand.

“It’s almost like a space shuttle or an ocean liner in how it’s designed,” said Donald Albrecht, co-curator of the exhibit.

The let’s-get-small initiative taps into that kind of trade-off – an ultra-tiny apartment for the opportunity to live in one of the world’s great cities.

It grew out of a confluence of sobering statistics. New York City, which already has 8.2 million people, is projected to grow by about 600,000 people by 2030. A third of the city’s households consist of just one person, a percentage that climbs to 46 percent in Manhattan. Residents face average market-value rents of $2,000 a month for a studio apartment and $2,700 a month for a one-bedroom.

Newly constructed tiny apartments, depending on location, are expected to go for the price of a current studio but would have the added state-of-the-art amenities.