Single-Family Homes: A Smart Growth Strategy

Peter Calthorpe's Highlands Garden Village: Smart Growth Based on Single Family Homes
Peter Calthorpe’s Highlands Garden Village: Smart Growth Based on Single Family Homes

Sunday’s New York Times features a story by Shaila Dewan asking, “Is Suburban Sprawl on the Way Back?”  Answer: not really, although highly compact urban development is hardly going to dominate, either.  The best quote from the whole piece comes from Smart Growth America President Geoff Anderson, who correctly observed,

The market isn’t all for smart growth, nor is it all for sprawl, The thing for the last 50, 60 years has been that we’ve done nothing but sprawl.

Very true.  And keep it in mind: despite the hysterics emanating from the fever swamps of the right, smart growth is a deregulatory, pro-market strategy.  Smart growth advocates believe that if consumers actually get what they want, we will have a much smarter growth pattern than we have seen since the Second World War.

But Dewan does play into the Dumb Growth advocates’ ideology by noting that although smart growth and compact development seems to be on the rise,

Single-family homes still define the American dream and prospective home buyers overwhelmingly prefer them.

Assuming that this is true, this hardly undermines a smart growth strategy and might in fact enhance it.  Going on 20 years now, urban planners and smart growth advocates have been busily building single-family homes.  They are simply a different single-family home footprint than we are used to.

Consider the massive front lawn characteristic of traditional suburban sprawl.  The front lawn is typically the most wasted space in a house — few families really use it — and in any event, reflects a demographic pattern more characteristic of the Eisenhower years than the present.  That pattern was the one-earner family: husband works, wife stays home with the kids, presumably supervising them on the front lawn.  Now, families look very different, and even if they are traditional two-parent families, both parents are working, with the kids in child care.

You can actually get pretty high density in a single-family neighborhood if you get rid of the front lawns.  And if you combine that with shared backyards, such as featured in the Backyardigans cartoon series for children, you can get even more density while losing very little usable space.  An example of this is Highlands Garden Village, as designed by new urbanist Peter Calthorpe: lots of single family houses, with lots of open space, but in a more compact pattern.  It’s smart growth and single family houses and there is no contradiction there.

Planners have known this for years.  In a celebrated 1996-7 debate between Reid Ewing and Peter Gordon in the Journal of the American Planning Association, Ewing pointed out that Gordon’s entire critique of smart growth, viz. that people like single-family homes, rests upon an assumption that is demonstrably false, viz. that smart growth rejects the single family home.  It doesn’t, Ewing pointed out: it simply advocates 1) for the market to guide choices (with appropriate pricing for environmental degradation and other damage caused by sprawl); and 2) for single-family homes to reflect the far more compact character that would come from accurate pricing.

This may be what eventually develops, as Dewan points out: a town centers concept where people can live close to their individual town center but in a single-family house.  This is a smart growth strategy, and also will reduce VMT: the majority of VMT are for in-town trips, not commutes, so bringing houses closer to town centers would have a positive climate impact.

Single family homes are a smart growth strategy as long they are planned and developed, well, smartly.  One can’t help but wonder if smart growth critics ignore this because they don’t understand it, or because they do.

Author: Jonathan Zasloff

Jonathan Zasloff teaches Torts, Land Use, Environmental Law, Comparative Urban Planning Law, Legal History, and Public Policy Clinic - Land Use, the Environment and Local Government. He grew up and still lives in the San Fernando Valley, about which he remains immensely proud (to the mystification of his friends and colleagues). After graduating from Yale Law School, and while clerking for a federal appeals court judge in Boston, he decided to return to Los Angeles shortly after the January 1994 Northridge earthquake, reasoning that he would gladly risk tremors in order to avoid the average New England wind chill temperature of negative 55 degrees. Professor Zasloff has a keen interest in world politics; he holds a PhD in the history of American foreign policy from Harvard and an M.Phil. in International Relations from Cambridge University. Much of his recent work concerns the influence of lawyers and legalism in US external relations, and has published articles on these subjects in the New York University Law Review and the Yale Law Journal. More generally, his recent interests focus on the response of public institutions to social problems, and the role of ideology in framing policy responses. Professor Zasloff has long been active in state and local politics and policy. He recently co-authored an article discussing the relationship of Proposition 13 (California's landmark tax limitation initiative) and school finance reform, and served for several years as a senior policy advisor to the Speaker of California Assembly. His practice background reflects these interests: for two years, he represented welfare recipients attempting to obtain child care benefits and microbusinesses in low income areas. He then practiced for two more years at one of Los Angeles' leading public interest environmental and land use firms, challenging poorly planned development and working to expand the network of the city's urban park system. He currently serves as a member of the boards of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy (a state agency charged with purchasing and protecting open space), the Los Angeles Center for Law and Justice (the leading legal service firm for low-income clients in east Los Angeles), and Friends of Israel's Environment. Professor Zasloff's other major activity consists in explaining the Triangle Offense to his very patient wife, Kathy.

59 thoughts on “Single-Family Homes: A Smart Growth Strategy”

  1. That picture of “Highland Gardens Village” looks terrifyingly like the apartment complex we just escaped.

  2. As far as I know there’s zero greenfield development in America that’s not auto-dependent. All the New Urbanism stuff is still for people who drive everywhere. It just looks prettier. The only way to make places walkable is to minimize the space given for cars. If you require gobs of residential parking and commercial parking and wide streets for fire trucks to go 40 mph through neighborhoods then you’ve pushed everything else so far apart that you have to take a car to get there.

    Not that it’s impossible. Poke around with Google street view in the Netherlands and you can find new development all over that’s walkable/bikeable (and they still have cars). But it definitely takes top-down planning. Automobility is basically a prisoner’s dilemma situation. The ideal situation is that I drive and everybody stays out of the road. If everybody drives we’re all stuck in traffic and we burn up the atmosphere. The best situation is if nobody drives, but to get there you need cooperation, and that’s never going to happen if individuals are acting independently. It’s too easy to defect. So there’s no substitute for the heavy hand of the state to coordinate land use and transportation outcomes. There’s no free-market shortcut on this one.

    1. Hmm. I’m not at all convinced that the problem of “sprawl” is really the driving itself, or at least, I’m not sure it will remain the problem if we have clean cars. Which we have to get to anyway. And I’m not against bikes if the integration is done well, which ime so far, isn’t how it usually goes. And who doesn’t like transit options?

      And I somewhat buy the argument that we in the US are too much in love with large-sized everything, just for the heck of it. More space can just mean, more space that you feel an insane need to fill. Lofts, fe, seem notoriously hard to decorate. Why bother? Do we really need a gift-wrapping room?

      But privacy? That’s kind of a big deal to anyone who’s not a complete idiot. The picture above looks like a nightmare to me. And I live in a condo building! But, we *just happen* to have **excellent** sound insulation. And nice neighbors. And a great board. These things don’t have to happen. They might though, if you get lucky. Otherwise, you are in HE-hockey sticks. So, no, sorry, this isn’t the future, imo.

      And, I for one refuse to listen to any “Smart” Growth thinker who does not actually live — full-time — in multi-family housing. Most of the SG talk is, leave me alone, but SG for the 99%. And people like that can go bleep themselves.

      What I really really dislike is the coercive aspect of a lot of the SG. Especially here in LA. Their plan, which they don’t even try to hide, is to build a new city on top of the old one, and to make driving harder for *ordinary people* (remember them?), until, at least in theory, they either die or move away. It’s not just a fantasy, it’s an offensive and fascist attitude. Look, LA was maybe badly planned, and most of us shouldn’t be living here. Oh well. Does that then mean that you try to cram more and more people into a place that is facing *decreasing* water allocations?

      If people think I am going to stop watering my plants so they can cram more people into our above-average unemployment region, um, there is no polite way to say it. Even Yaroslavsky thinks there’s a backlash coming. Smart enough not to run for mayor, too, dagnabbit.

      A green city doesn’t mean we all have to live in the *same one.*

      1. Oh, and did anyone see what the Cali Leg did with CEQA last week? Words *fail.*

        I complain here b/c there is no one in this City who listens. That is why there are so many lawsuits.

        Oops, also there’s an election today. My new thing is, I won’t vote for any pol who already has a position. Enough with these b.s. special elections. Just say no.

  3. Looking at that picture, I couldn’t help my initial reaction to it, which is my god, that looks like cheap construction.

    But this approach is certainly nothing new. My mother lives in a similar development in northern Virginia that was built in the mid 1970s. I live in a beautiful Washington neighborhood that’s a mix of rowhouses with very little front yard and apartment houses, most of which were built before 1930.

  4. Actually, not so much reducing lot size but by eliminating redundant single-use parking lots around every destination land use would be a more effective means of combating sprawl.

    I don’t know why we always look at single-family neighborhoods as the target for densification and smart growth. There’s much mroe advantage to be gained from eliminating parking lots.

    I’m wiling to bet that huge, redundant car storage lots around commercial sites take up at least as much land area in our country as front yards do.

    And at least a yard is pleasant and useful for something other than storage of an empty motor vehicle.

    1. Well, I do think it would be nice if we could a) figure out how to create good jobs, and b) figure out how to make it so people can get to them more quickly, while maintaining quality of life.

      Afaik though, you are right, there is no actual land shortage in the US. “Sprawl” (eye of the beholder…) is currently seen as bad mostly b/c of GHGs, which I agree are a problem. And then there is the time people waste commuting, though, more commuter trains might help with this.

      There is another line of argument about how sprawl is “subsidized” because of gas taxes and roads and things, but I’m not yet convinced that the costs of hyper dense cities aren’t also going to be higher than people think. Plus, only 20 year olds want to live in them, and maybe a few empty nesters. Oh, and rich foreigners who just visit.

      So, like you, I am *unconvinced* that our current SG thinkers know what they’re doing. Especially because in LA they are so very bleeped in the head.

      But, that’s just one city. Maybe others are better at this. I sure wouldn’t be surprised. Our stupid planning is the expected result of our cr*ppy political culture here.

      1. Oh, and I forgot to add, that eliminating parking, or just hassling those who need it (especially if they’re poor — our parking ticket/city financing scheme is obscenely regressive), is a growth industry here.

        And do they put parking near the train stations? No, they do not.

        1. get a friend to drive you?

          why should valuable urban land around train stations — a prime place for intense development — be wasted for car storage? every person ridin the train expects to bring a 15 x 7 object with them and just leave it there for a week?

          i don’t take my washing machine with me places and expect to set it down somewhere and no one object

          1. Well, if people had friends to drive them places, they’d already be a carpool, and the SG people would have to stop yelling at them.

            Where I live, you can’t walk easily back and forth to the train. I can do it, b/c I’m healthy and don’t have to carry anything. But most people won’t. And there’s no bus. So if the powers that be want people to use the subway, they’ll have to do more. (There is talk of us getting a shuttle of some sort, but I’m not holding my breath.)

            It’s only a “prime” place for intense development if there is a need for that. This has in no way been established in my city. This idea that we must have more and more people — and we’re already quite dense here — seems so 20th Century to me. Everything must be more and more, everything must get bigger. Who says?

            We certainly don’t have jobs for these new people.

      2. I live in Cambridge, with a population of about 15,000/sq. mi., denser than either Chicago or Philadelphia, and only a little less dense than San Francisco. We have some high-rises, not many, and the city does not feel crowded. What I do have is walkability. Population density makes it worthwhile to put small retail businesses near residential streets, so it’s easy to do most routine shopping and similar errands on foot.

        I like it, and I’m much older than 20.

        1. Yes, Cambridge is very cute. My area *already* looks like that. What the crazy people here want to do is, turn the volume up *past* 11. And I ask, why? I don’t happen to think it’s broken (at least, not that way). I happen to like human scale. So sue me. ; >

        2. I live in Newark-much the same as Cambridge, with much lower real-estate prices. It’s a very common pattern: single-family city housing. As byomtov points out, it can support high density and a reasonable degree of walkability. The same is true in much of North Jersey.
          Atrios often makes the point that you don’t need a carless city like Manhattan to significantly economize on cars and space. You can get an significant amount of density with one-car families. But that requires rail commuting as a norm.

          1. Ebenezer: You can get an significant amount of density with one-car families. But that requires rail commuting as a norm.

            I would amend that to say that it requires good and widely public transit (plus possibly a bike-friendly area), not necessarily rail. One problem is that in too many cities buses in particular are only being used by the poor (which leads to bus systems not getting much money, which leads to low quality; i.e., a vicious circle). Light rail can face similar problems, depending on the locale.

            But otherwise I agree with you. Having lived in densely populated areas with decent/good public transit for the past eight years, we have really only ever needed one car for a family of four with both my husband and me working, and we didn’t use the car that much, either. I’m not sure if we could have managed the same in, say, the Greater Lansing area.

      3. I live in Park Slope, believed to be the worst place in the country to find a parking place. It’s part of Brooklyn’s brownstone crescent and most of the buildings are either four story, eight apartment buildings or four story row houses that were build as single families but now may be broken up into as many as eight apartments (2-3 is norm). It is hard to buy here BECAUSE NO ONE EVER LEAVES.

    2. […]
      Absent hard numbers Mr. Ben-Joseph settles on a compromise of 500 million parking spaces in the country, occupying some 3,590 square miles, or an area larger than Delaware and Rhode Island combined. If the correct number is 2 billion, we’re talking about four times that: Connecticut and Vermont.

      Paved, but Still Alive

      1. Thanks .. I’ve read so much on this it all runs together, and I’m a practitioner not an academic so I don’t always have a cite handy

  5. In my home town of Lexington,Mass., the mark of the town’s oldest homes is that they have almost no front yard, as they were built prior to the invention of the motorcar and thus were located close to the unpaved roads of their time, which were narrower than the suburban two-lane streets that replaced them. People live in them quite nicely. Indeed, they’re desirable and expensive.

  6. I do kind of like detached-home living in the suburbs, although I would not be sad to see most of my backyard and front lawn disappear. A large backyard is one of those things you think you’ll end up using, but in practice it just ends up being a drain of money due to the need to maintain it. I’d love to rip up a smaller front lawn and replace it with bushes/trees providing window shade, and replace a smaller back lawn with a garden.

    The main reason for the detached housing would be to reduce sounds traveling through from the neighbors.

    1. Most of my new backyard is wooded, the only maintenance is raking leaves, ’cause the grass won’t grow under oak trees. (There’s one corner lit up enough to grow grass, I’m planning on putting the garden there.) My front yard is smallish, and with the circular drive, I mow the lawn in five minutes with a manual reel type mower. One thing I do miss here, that the suburbs of my childhood had, are sidewalks. You either walk on your neighbors’ laws, or in the street. What’s up with that?

      But I’ve got privacy, some space to do what I want, and if they’d just come to their senses around here concerning domestic poultry, I’d be in hog heaven.

      1. What’s up with that? you ask. I think there was no, uh, government regulation to require sidewalks, in the area you chose to buy in. You were supposed to use the free market to get that. It does help if you live in a town, the time tested and traditional place where public services are available and valued for their effect on property values (upward).

        Probably though you live near but not in a town; this is known as the “free rider” phenomenon.

      2. What’s up with that is the same thing that’s up with not wanting public transit in Marin County, CA, Clayton, GA and similar places: sidewalks are forbidden because the wrong kind of people walk. The kind of people who only come to your nice neighborhood to rob you, whom you moved to a gated (literally or otherwise) ‘community’ with only people exactly like you to not have to ever encounter except when they are serving you in a restaurant. How they get to your house to clean your pool or your kitchen is their problem.

        1. No, it’s more because the developers fight any subdivision ordinance that would require them to go to the expense of installing sidewalks. That’s really the reason.

      3. Why are there chickens in hog heaven?

        Totally with you on the garden. My vegetable gardens get larger every year, but if I go much further, I’ll be getting a visit from lawn enforcement officers.

  7. You can accommodate 48 dwelling units per acre — that’s 10 times the density of most residential areas — in three-story dwellings. I lived on a 5-acre site that had this density in three stories — with a 3-acre park left over between the buildings — net density still 48 units per acre.

    Density doesn’t have to be high-rises, which are bad for both wight and beast.

    1. My apartment was a nice enough place to stay… until we could get a place of our own. If you don’t want to garden, you want to have virtually no privacy, and you want somebody dictating your landscaping, and you want to live without assigned parking.

      IOW, kind of like Vegan Rhino cutlets: Nice enough, if you like that sort of thing. The problem with “smart growth”, I get the impression, is the conviction that everybody likes that sort of thing, or ought to.

      1. That’s kind of funny ( the last sentence) cause most of my clients are communities with no housing options other than single family houses, and there is huge need for senior cottages, young people flats, decnt apartments, and mixed / attached housing such as townhouses, to the point of desperation in many towns. But again, everyone is supposed to need a single family detached house on a suburban lot. So I find it droll when the anti-options people accuse the housing options people of “forcing everyone to live in a high-rise”.

        Having said that, the actual market for *high rises* as a living alternative is laughably small, but development lobbying ensures that most of what gets approved under the “dense sustainability” rubric is in fact highrises with lots of (structured) parking. In other words, nothing like traditional (real) dense urbanism … just suburbanism stacked vertically and still marketed to the drive-in lifestyle.

        1. On my street—a walkable, transit-accessible square kilometer of three-bedroom “average family” bungalows with two-car garages/front yard/etc.—several of these “average family” houses are rented (front yard and all) by unmarried grad students, one per bedroom. Why hasn’t someone bulldozed a lot or two and built a nice 3-story, 15-occupant building with 1/2/3-br rental units? Which would make things better for both the grad students (who can get the housing choice they want) and for actual yard-wanting families (who aren’t getting priced out of the neighborhood by grad students with no other options)? Because of this vague sense (promulgated by people who live in 3-bedroom bungalows and who show up at planning meetings) that there should be more 3-bedroom bungalows.

          Imagine if the same principle applied to, say, dried pasta. “Why is there tricolor rotini on this shelf? You can’t force me to like rotini. Take it off the shelf, I only want to look at spaghetti or maybe linguini.”

          1. If the same principle applied to dried pasta, you’d be asking, “Why is everything but the tricolor rotini located at the back of the top shelf, where most people can’t reach it?” And the answer would be something like, “Because the city planners want you to eat tricolor rotini, of course!”

            I don’t object to these fads in city design when they surface as decisions by developers, because that is the free market, and fads burn themselves out. But they’re frequently imposed by zoning boards.

            Much that you probably find objectionable is so imposed, too: Not far from here, along Main street, there are a line of nice old houses. We checked them while we were house hunting, precisely because they WERE within walking distance of the shops. Couldn’t buy one! Why? Because the street had been re-zoned commercial, and as the people moved on, nobody could buy any of those houses to live in. So they sit there empty, because they’re very well suited to being residences, and a very bad fit to running most businesses out of. Because the local planning board has a horror of mixed residential and commercial buildings.

            My first preference was to live out in the country. My wife prevailed, and we live not far off Main street, in an old subdivision. But I would have been fine with living in one of those nice vacant houses the local government has decided nobody may live in.

          2. These are very good points (Brett’s points above). It’s not the city planners making policy, though, it’s the elected boards. Planners comply pretty readily with what their bosses want, because they’ll get fired or be made miserable if they don’t.

            There is an enormous amount of contra-functional zoning out there, such as the unthinking Commercial zoning that made those existing houses unusable (given that retail commercial is hugely overbuilt already, and demand for commercial space has collapsed in many places). This is where a good zoning ordinance can do so much to help and a flawed one, well, .

          3. Well, all I can say is, the world you-all live in is completely unlike mine, so maybe we’re having 2 or 3 different conversations here. It sounds to me as if what Betsy calls “traditional (real) dense urbanism” could be what I already have, and which is in the process of being taken away in favor of these high rises, so it could be that I agree with her without knowing it.

            What I would like to know is, how do you-all think zoning decisions *should* be made? Because where I live, they are not made democratically because we have a giant city with 15 councilpeople, and they all leave each other alone to do *whatever* they want in their area. Hardly anyone votes or reads the local (declining) paper, and there’s pretty much *zero* accountability for city government. It’s too big, it’s been captured by lobbyists, and it’s just a mess. Our planning board is 100% appointed by the mayor, who’s chosen by the same dysfunctional process. They’ve cut the planning department to the bone — which I have mixed feelings about b/c I hate the output. Still, that may be unwise.

            I might like to think that doing the zoning by straight vote is the only solution. But, again, apathy and ignorance, plus campaign donations, give me pause.

            What city does this well? Please, does anyone know? I need to know.

  8. Large parts of Chicago and its inner-ring suburbs and satellite cities are walkable because the standard home is a bungalow on a lot with almost no front yard and a back yard only big enough for a vegetable garden and a garage. Privacy is not as good as it would be on a rural road, but so what?

    1. I live in a similar 1920’s neighborhood, fairly large single family houses with lots maybe a bit bigger than you describe, but small compared to nearly all post-WWII suburbs; our neighborhood is also highly walkable. This model was essentially prohibited by many post-war zoning codes, and is pretty much impossible to retrofit. Also, the smaller lots would be more of a negative without the walkability as a tradeoff, and that is tricky to create from scratch on open land that is usually away from established small-scale retail. There are serious and complex long-term tradeoffs to be wrestled with.

  9. Of course everything’s connected, but livability means amenities being accessible as much as it does denser housing. In larger parts of the country the stereotypical pattern of a single home surrounded by open lawn (or even wooded space or whatever) is dictated by zoning laws. Homeowners there will fight tooth and nail against any changes for fear of damage to property values and prestige. These places are built for complete car dependence, and that means strip malls and box stores. Unzoned semi-rural sprawl works out to much the same thing in practice, with the additional fillip of tooth-and-nail resistance to property taxes.

    Even before cars, though, we had streets. They were needed for access to houses and to transportation like streetcars. And to give people a place to walk when they were on foot. So I think they’re still necessary. And a lot of older single-family urban neighborhoods are nevertheless fairly densely-packed by suburban and semi-rural standards, even without party walls.

    Some of the nicest areas in established cities seem to be really solidly-constructed two- and three-story apartment buildings (now pretty old). The kind of density they allow for could still support storefront retail, if people were willing to pay slightly higher prices for convenience and to go to more than one place. That’s a big change in habits, though. With the old buildings, the walls and floors are solid enough that you don’t get much noise from the neighbors so the real trade-off would be space (much bigger rooms, typically) against the desirability of having something that’s all my own and the extra trouble of more car trips and yard maintenance.

    But dwellings like that will never be built again, and culturally we do seem to have reached a place where we need something of our own for everything we do. And some people have good reason, like parents who both work so one of them won’t be available to keep an eye on the kids over in the park.

    Seems to me that if we really want more density, we need things that make it possible to cut back on using cars and depend on what’s nearby for more of what we buy and do. That means changes in zoning and investment in convenient transit. High gas prices, and the upcoming generation’s lack of real interest in cars, may give it a push.

    1. Why will dwellings like that never be built again? I’m not being snotty, I really want to know. What is so horrible about courtyard apartments? And it’s not just space you can lose, you can also lose access to meaningful gardening and certain foods, and no, container gardening is *not* a substitute. (Unless you live on a tiny island, which the US is not.) All of this infill is decreasing the greenery and that’s not a joke (to me).

      And when did we decide that we wanted density for its own sake? I don’t believe that conversation has happened yet. How much would the debate change if cars didn’t pollute?

      I think a bigger factor in the failure of small businesses is the income inequality and long working hours, not necessarily the difficulty in getting to them.

      1. Oh, and I forgot to say, it is also true that you can have too much yard. It can be a lot of work. And many people aren’t into that. So it’s true that not everyone wants/needs a big yard.

        Otoh … since we’re all so into “walkability,” (which I think just means, there’s a cafe nearby where they make decent coffee and aren’t too chatty?), isn’t it nicer to walk by …. some actual plants? Maybe some shade trees? Even a small setback can be beautiful … but sometimes, yes you do have to *require* it.

      2. It isn’t because they leave too much open ground, but because I don’t think we build anything new, and that substantial and solid, for non-commercial use anymore. I’d be glad to be wrong. But I think the contemporary equivalent of the plaster walls and heavy sub-flooring of the older buildings is something like doubled 5/8 plasterboard screwed to staggered wall studs for sound insulation and using steel or engineered floor joists, etc, and I don’t think it could be done with a realistic payback time.

  10. Why does the architecture of these “smart growth” communities have to be so retro? It appears that the architects of these communities are looking back to some imagined paradisaical past instead of forward. This seems to me to be perhaps a significant underlying element of this approach.

  11. Hoo boy. Much discussion here about SG. One imagines sorting comments into a 2×2 matrix, with the axes “relevant to JZ’s basic point (y/n)” and “True (y/n)”.

    Jonathan may have committed the third classic blunder: making a pretty basic argument, based on some simple facts, at too great a length.

    Fact 1: there’s more than one kind of single-family home (SFH).

    Fact 2: Many people want to live in kinds of SFHs not currently allowed under many planning regimes.

    Fact 3: As demographics continue to change, even more people will wish to do so.

    JZ claims:

    1. SG involves (in part) allowing a greater diversity of SFH types.
    2. Allowing them would be a) market-responsive, and b) good for the environment, among other positive outcomes.

    One watches in awe as people respond to these claims with observations like ‘I wouldn’t want to live in that.’

    Really, you don’t have to.

    In fairness, many of the commenters are trying to discuss whether this seemingly straightforward idea is being implemented well or not. There are certainly bad plans that call themselves SG. (One sees another 2×2 matrix: “Is actually SG (y/n)” and “calls itself (or is called) SG (y/n)”. And they should be debated. But the idea that SG (or JZ’s post) is somehow about less choice, rather than more, is really just wrong.

    SG advocates sometimes debate dropping the term SG because it has rightly or wrongly developed bad connotations with some people. That’s a debate for another place. But for the purposes of this post: JZ’s argument really doesn’t require any reference to SG. Maybe we can agree that planning and zoning (under whatever banner) that allow for a greater diversity of single-family housing types is a good thing, and should be pursued.

    1. That’s all well and good and I don’t disagree with your analysis, but the density debate has been captured (on the pro-density side) not by those who advocate for “choices” and “options” but by (yes) evil developers who sense a sustainability “argument” for their ugly high-rises that include massive parking decks … a form of development that still pours cars on the road in record numbers, not to mention absorbing most of local demand for real estate structure space onto (guess whose) lucky site, leaving the lots around it with less demand (net).

      The trick is to turn the high-rise ON ITS SIDE and distribute the density down each block and street, not up into the air. People like it better, nearby neighbors like it better, more landowners get the profits instead of one lucky duckie, and NCG gets his courtyard apartments and Brooklyn townhouses (at 3-4 stories and up to 50-80 dwelling units per acre).

      but you can’t do that type of development AND also serve it with two dedicated parking spaces per household on each development site it don’t work. it don’t fit (literally, not figuratively). and it’s not walkable.

    2. I think if Zasloff made an error, and he may not have done, it may have been in using the term SG, because no one seems to know what it means. My guess is, SG is what I want, and DG is what the other person wants! Not so helpful. Nonetheless, you’re right — it is definitely getting to have a bad rep.

      Also, I don’t include townhouses as SFH, though perhaps that is my error (though the inset of the “dumb” growth example seems to do it too). To me, a SFH is freestanding. If you have enough space for the plenty of open space in Highland Grounds, why would you ever want shared walls? It’s that hard to put them a little bit apart? I don’t get it.

      The other thing is, Calthorpe didn’t have to re-plan an already existing community, which is what the zealots are trying to do here. LA is decades away from having decent transit. (Okay, maybe 10 years. We’ll see.) It seems to me very irresponsible to try to practice theories that just can’t apply here. If you want to be on time somewhere, and that somewhere is not near the very few subway stations, or you don’t live near one, then you have to drive. It’s that simple (except for the tiny # of cyclists — an exception that proves a rule). I wish you-all could see what’s happening here, it is really amazing. Plus, I wonder if these VMT ideas even fit here. I don’t know anyone in LA who commutes more to run errands than for work. That’s unheard of.

      1. >>why would you ever want shared walls?

        It’s less expensive to build, and less expensive over time to heat, cool, and maintain. Depending on how it’s built, noise from unit to unit may or may not be worse. It can even be better. Different families will value cost savings and noise differently.

        1. True, but you still lose a whole lot of natural light since there go the windows. Maybe back East it makes sense, weather-wise.

  12. A far more attractive example of very dense SFHs is François Spoerry´s Port Grimaud on the French Mediterranean coast just down the road from Saint-Tropez, which loosely inspired it:

    There is no individual car parking or garden space at all, as it´s esentially a built-up marina. You move around locally by boat or on foot (I´m not sure about bikes). An extreme example, sure, but nobody will say it isn´t high quality and successful.

  13. I think you correctly identified a core issue with this kind of single-family housing: that mixed-ownership common land (shared backyards) are antithetical to the way American’s think about home ownership, which people implicitly attach single-use land to.

    A way around this might be single-family rental arrangements. Why own when you can rent? While the economics on this question vary by place, I for one am a very happy renter in a place where we have a shared backyard (more like a courtyard surrounded by apartments).

    For those of you who live in the East Bay and want to see how this kind of development works, come to University Village in Albany. It is family housing run by UC Berkeley. The shared spaces (particularly in the “East” village) are great for kids.

  14. Well, it would be great to be able to start out with 27 acres in the middle of a dense city. Wait a sec….

    Try to doing that in a dense city by rezoning the single family homes into your TOD paradise, if you like being re-elected to political office.

  15. So, other than Houston, no one knows of any place with at least a semi-democratic way to zone that makes any sense at all?

    Maybe it’s kind of like picking judges? No really good way?

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