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‘Urban’ doesn’t have to mean more dense

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This does not make sense.

It is one of the great myths of suburbia that most suburban households live in detached houses, and that therefore suburbia should be arranged exclusively to cater to detached households.

Consider US Census results from Montgomery and Fairfax Counties, the two largest suburban jurisdictions in the region. In both cases single-family detached houses make up about half the total housing stock, with about 20% as townhouses and 30% apartments. Census results also show that in some suburban jurisdictions, such as Gaithersburg, detached houses are a distinct minority, representing less than 21% of the housing stock.

What does this mean? It means that literally millions of people in the DC suburbs alone are currently living at fundamentally urban densities, but aren’t getting any of the benefits of urban living. It means the densities to support mixed-use neighborhoods are already there, but mixed-use neighborhoods aren’t happening because of counter-productive zoning requirements.

This really is ridiculous. Imagine how much less congestion the suburbs would experience if the millions of people living in suburban townhouses and apartments could easily walk to their daily needs. Even if it were just the apartments, and even if it were only half of those, the difference to overall suburban quality of life would be immense.

And that’s without adding one iota of density.

It’s easy to understand why many people think living in a detached house with a private yard is worth the trade-offs. Even if that’s not a choice I personally make, it’s easy enough to see why it attracts other people. Detached houses make sense, from a certain point of view.

But suburban apartments are simply preposterous. If you’re going to be building at that density anyway, then for goodness sake use an urban layout.

February 1st, 2011 | Permalink | {num}Comments
Tags: people, urbandesign



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