The Case for Building More Mid-Sized Housing in our Cities

Planning cities and the way that we comfortably live in them is often a pull between many things. From creating affordable housing for all, enhancing community facilities and amenities, and designing walkable neighborhoods, all aspects of urban design have trade-offs, or do they? While there are many reasons why cities are becoming increasingly more expensive, dense, and less pedestrian-friendly, one of the key drivers behind the increase in unaffordability has to do with the way that outdated zoning codes drive the lack of available housing that they regulate.

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via Missing Middle Housing

Enter the term “middle housing”, which has been a topic of conversation, both in the sense that people who are categorized as middle-income households have historically struggled to find housing and as a descriptor of the form and size of the types of housing that many urban planners and designers want to build. Instead of the traditional single-family detached homes that define urban sprawl, or the high rise towers that define our most dense cities, there’s a distinct residential architecture that is quite literally the “middle” of the two- most commonly built to three or four stories tall and designed in a way that helps make more walkable neighborhoods more walkable.

In a study conducted by “Missing Middle Housing”, people across all generations and geographical locations have been desiring a walkable way of life for more than a decade. Nearly ⅓ of boomers (those born between 1946 and 1964) and ¾ of millennials (those born between 1981 and 1996) desire walkable neighborhoods. The problem with neighborhoods that only have detached homes is that there isn’t a high enough concentration of them to make amenities within walking distance feasible. Instead, they are located in places only accessible through public transit or car. On the other end of the spectrum, high rises, and any type of apartment more closely associated with city life, often don’t provide many desirable characteristics of homes such as porches, yards, and accessibility to light and open space.

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via Urban Footprint

Middle housing is the diverse range of housing that responds to the best of both options and provides a comfortable solution that creates more units in sustainable, affordable, and walkable neighborhoods. Some cities are already recognizing the need for this type of housing and have begun to implement policies and zoning regulations that make way for future developments. Minneapolis, Minnesota is one of those cities, aiming to tackle both racial segregation and housing affordability at the same time. The city moved to ban single-family-exclusive zoning by creating policies that will allow for three-family buildings in all areas deemed residential throughout the city. This shift symbolizes a movement that has significantly impacted the way that residential areas are designed across the United States. More than 75% of land in most cities has zoning regulations that make it illegal to construct anything more than single-family homes, and these policies stem from early 20th century policies which viewed this type of zoning as a way to segregate people by income and race.

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© Kaley Overstreet

As the United States continues to search for more ways that housing can become more affordable, there’s a shown interest in how Minneapolis’ approach will play out. The thought is that these zoning laws will make way for smaller and less expensive homes, and serve as the perfect balance for people who want a sense of walkable city life without the skyscraper units. No longer will you have to choose between your hard and your neighborly community- you can have both.

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Cite: Kaley Overstreet. "The Case for Building More Mid-Sized Housing in our Cities" 03 Oct 2021. ArchDaily. Accessed . <> ISSN 0719-8884

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