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June 21, 2019  

Is the End of the Single-Family Neighborhood Near?

June 21, 2019

Minneapolis is doing it. Seattle might be soon, too. Portland is likely to join the club next.

We’re talking about the end of single-family-only zoning in our major neighborhoods—and it’s something Strong Towns has been calling for since we were founded in 2009.

In a series of recent articles, the New York Times has made note of the trend towards major cities allowing all their neighborhoods to evolve beyond the suburban form, and even called for more cities to end exclusionary zoning in a rare op-ed from the editorial board. And they’re not the only ones: more and more major news outlets are beginning to recognize just how destructive it is for cities to limit developers to building the same old detached single-family house over and over again. Some have argued that restrictive zoning is, functionally, just racist redlining by another name; others stress that it shuts non-nuclear families out of our built environment; others think ending it could desegregate our school districts; and that’s just a handful of the headlines from the last three days.

But here at Strong Towns, the main reason why we want to see single family-only zoning finally bite the dust is pretty simple: it makes our places financially fragile. And in this episode of Upzoned, we go deep into why—and what our housing market might look like on the other end of the change.

Would ending single family zoning really bring about an apocalypse for the home values of millions of Americans? How did maintaining universally (and some might say, artificially) high home values become the prerogative of planners and policy makers in the first place? With 75% of all residential land devoted to single-family neighborhoods, what will it really take to change the status quo? And what would our broader economy look like if constantly-rising home values weren’t its very backbone?

Then in the Downzone, Chuck and Kea have a few more summer reading recommendations for you, from Aja Gabel’s powerful (and very beach-friendly) novel, The Ensemble, to the new book from all-time Strong Towns favorite, Jared Diamond.