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America’s Love Affair with the Single-Family House Is Cooling

Multifamily dwellings are making inroads where single-family homes have been the rule, but the transition will be slow and difficult

Changes in land-use and zoning regulations are encouraging more multifamily housing and reducing urban sprawl, but the single-family home remains dominant in many markets. Photo courtesy of MyBiggestFan / CC BY 2.0 / Flickr.

For decades land use regulation across the U.S. has emphasized single-family houses on large lots. This approach has priced many people out of the quintessential American dream: home ownership. It also has promoted suburban sprawl—a pattern of low-density, car-dependent development that has dominated growth at the edges of urban areas since the end of World War II.

Now, however, Americans may be starting to question the desirability of a private house. In the past year, the Minneapolis City Council and the state of Oregon have voted to allow duplexes and other types of multi-unit housing in neighborhoods where currently only single-family homes currently are allowed. Democratic lawmakers in Virginia, who recently won control of their state’s legislature, are seeking to enact similar legislation. And several of the former Democratic presidential candidates had included changes to zoning laws in their housing policies.

Headlines have predicted a housing revolution. But based on our research, we believe that while attitudes about suburban life may be evolving, the transition away from single-family zoning will be slow and difficult.

Sprawl’s heavy costs

Elected officials are rethinking single-family zoning because some of their constituents worry that single-family houses cost too much, are wasteful, and can isolate people from their communities.

Many researchers have shown that single-family zoning promotes discrimination and exclusion. Our research focuses on its environmental impacts. Dozens of studies have shown that sprawl is energy-intensive, mainly for transportation; consumes too much land; degrades air and water quality; reduces species diversity; and contributes to climate change.

We have examined how Oregon’s land use policy affects residential density and Oregon’s housing affordability crisis. Oregonians are known to be progressive and environmentally conscious. They hate density because they value privacy and space. But they also hate sprawl because it consumes valuable agricultural land.

In short, Oregon would seem to be the ideal starting point for policies curbing single-family zoning. One of its 19 statewide land use planning goals, which were adopted in the early 1970s, addresses housing and requires cities to include many housing types. But exclusive single-family neighborhoods still dominate Oregon’s landscape today.

Single-family nation

In the early 1970s, in what came to be named “the quiet revolution in land use control,” some states started taking back authority over zoning that they had ceded to cities and towns. In 1973, Oregon created “urban growth boundaries”—a line of demarcation between urban and rural land uses—around each of its cities, along with other measures to contain growth and prevent sprawl.

Our research shows that this approach has helped contain urban growth and promote more efficient land use. Single-family density in urban growth boundaries, as measured by single-family housing units per acre, has consistently increased since the zones were created. Statewide, single-family density increased 22% from 1993 to 2012.

Eugene, Oregon’s urban growth boundary has protected land just outside city limits from development, but single-family residential land constitutes 87% of residential land inside the boundary. Photo courtesy of Oregon Imagery Explorer.

Still, sprawl exists inside urban growth boundaries. We have found that land exclusively zoned for single-family homes can hold only a maximum of eight to ten units per acre. And as demand for houses exceeds supply, lower-income families are pushed into cheaper areas far from their work. Up for Growth, a national coalition that advocates for denser development, estimates that only 89 housing units were built in Oregon for every 100 households formed from 2000 through 2015.

In short, housing is getting more expensive. A 2019 Harvard study concluded that the supply of low-cost rental units (under $800 per month) in Oregon decreased by 44% between 1990 and 2017. Today 63% of Oregon’s housing is stand-alone houses or detached single-family units.

Smaller dwellings are more desirable

These issues aren’t limited to Oregon. According to the Harvard Joint Center on Housing, 47% of renter households nationwide are paying more than 30% of their income in housing costs. And new residential construction remains below pre-2008-2009 recession era rates.

Between 2000 and 2015, the U.S. underproduced 7.3 million units of housing, meaning that families across the country are struggling to find housing that is affordable and available. This shortage spanned 22 states and the District of Columbia.

Public officials are recognizing that allowing only single-family houses also creates equity problems. Single-family zoning segregated neighborhoods after World War II by excluding African American families, who could not afford to buy single-family homes, from middle-class white neighborhoods.

Most new single-family houses in the U.S. still have at least a two-car garage, and the median floor area is almost 2,400 square feet. Illustration courtesy of U.S. Census Bureau.

Today demand for smaller, connected houses—including duplexes, triplexes and quadplexes—within walking distance of services is increasing. People like living this way, but as architect and urban designer Daniel Parolek has shown, regulatory barriers deter builders from producing more of these types of housing, which he calls the “missing middle.” As Parolek points out, many of the diverse housing types that are common in older neighborhoods, such as duplexes and triplexes, are illegal under most current zoning codes.

A modest but important start

All of these factors helped drive Minneapolis and Oregon to move away from single-family zoning and allow more housing types. But for all of the attention that these actions have received, we predict that they will have modest impact.

Housing markets are complex and are affected by much more than zoning. One key question is whether costs will decline if policymakers encourage construction of diverse “missing middle” dwelling types.

This does not mean that changing zoning policies is misguided. Promoting construction of broader ranges of housing creates more vibrant neighborhoods, reduces conversion of farm and forest land for suburban development, reduces infrastructure costs, and provides more equitable housing opportunities for all.


Robert Parker is Co-Director, Institute for Policy Research and Engagement, University of Oregon. Rebecca Lewis is Associate Professor of Planning, Public Policy and Management, University of Oregon. This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license.

38 Comments

  1. John Clark | | #1

    Can't wait to watch the collision between proponents of 2-to-4 unit multi-family and proponents of EV's.

    Of course what's going to happen is that the city council in Portland will make high rise residential so expensive that only luxury units can be built.

    Then they'll limit on-street parking which will discourage conversions of single family.

  2. But Why? | | #2

    REALLY!!! Now??? Perhaps you take a look at where all the people are DEAD due to CoronaVirus. Its not in the suburbs. Its in those crowded cities you want to push. If you think people are going to come out of this WANTING TO LIVE CLOSER TOGETHER...you are more than one card short of full deck.

    1. Expert Member
      Malcolm Taylor | | #4

      But Why,

      After your incredibly tone-deaf boasting about how big your house is and how many TVs you have, perhaps you might consider not posting Covid related comments?

      1. James Someone | | #8

        I'm glad we are all healthy enough to argue differing points of view. I agree with But Why, forget about cities until the world gets it stuff togeather.

        NYC is a dump, I know a dozen people who left it behind in the last two years, worked hard and got out in time. Rats everywhere, pets electrocuted walking on manhole covers.

        But why, you are correct but don't be a schmuck about it.

        1. Tyler Keniston | | #9

          I've tended towards being thankful for those wanting to live in cities. I think it does offer more opportunity to leave a smaller environmental footprint... but I personally enjoy the space of Maine too much (I technically live in a 'small city'- but this is an old mill town in Maine...fairly expansive uninhabited land is little more than a stones throw).

          Rather than complain about city folks and jump on the 'us vs them' train so many seem to ride, I try to be thankful for those who actually want to live in the cities. If everyone that lived in a city sprawled into the forests and rural lands, which I cherish for the non-human aspects, much would be lost.

          Since I do desire to leave a smaller footprint while still enjoying a bit of leg room, I can't help but dream of some sort of 'middle of the road' model that could work for the more rural states. Shy away from the megalopolises and gear towards smaller— but higher in number— cities. And focus on developing well-rounded economies within these units as much as possible (something lacking in Maine's towns). Then link these economic units via pleasant and environmentally friendly mass-transit. Then, on the weekend, take your zippity-dew-da electric scootermobober (charged during off-peak power ;)) on a fishing trip.

          1. But Why? | | #10

            Mass Transit is one of the biggest threats in the current crisis...people arent soon going to forget that either. Disagree if you want but the proof is in the number of people who abandoned NYC and other large cities...so many that other states and the fed gov though about a quarantine on travelers from these areas. Many states did target refugees for contact and threats.

            This is a defining traumatic experience in the lives of many if not most people in the US. They wont soon forget being cramped up in their small homes/apartments. IF they can ever afford to (given the potential for total economic collapse), they arent likely to choose to live on top of each other in tiny homes.

          2. Rick Evans | | #25

            But Why,

            I think many city dwellers will still prefer an urban pandemic over the suburban life of Applebees, strip malls, parking lots, and lawn mowing.

            To each his own.

        2. John Clark | | #11

          I suspect they either made a ton of $$ or secured an absurd public pension in the process.

      2. David B | | #14

        Wow, pot, meet kettle.

        The reality is that "but why" has a point that is 100% relevant not only to the dreadfully misleading article's premise, but to current events as they relate to the article.

        Why the heck would anyone want to live in NYC right now, or any other big city? Nothng good comes from cramming as many people as possible into a confined space. NOTHING. And all these wonderful things the density folks push, like mass transit will (as seen in NYC) will only exacerbate the problem.

        As for the ridiculously misleading headline, not true. If it said "America's politicians trying to generate more revenue for the city by forcing multi tenant zoning in SF neighborhoods", well, that would be accurate. Any suggestion to the contrary is walking through life with blinders on IMHO.

        1. Expert Member
          Malcolm Taylor | | #19

          David,

          I think the debate around these issues is healthy, and I don't think there should be a GBA house policy on these sort of topics. GBA's strength is the technical building knowledge it publishes.

          That said I don't have much time for posters who have no constructive input, interest in high performance building, or even useful criticism. Unfortunately if you look at many years of But Why's posting history, that's him.

  3. Andrew C | | #3

    Property tax is one the main drivers of sprawl and large single family housing. Cities get more tax dollars by taxing bigger, more expensive houses. So they set up zoning to favor more expensive houses for people with money. Until property tax becomes a smaller piece of the revenue pie, changing zoning to allow different types of denser housing will be a steep uphill battle.

    1. John Clark | | #12

      It's a complex problem. Our economy has steered people into a situation where the home is a family's most valuable asset. Consequently people who live in SFD's will fight tooth and nail to prevent any other form of real estate to be built which could have a negative impact on that value.

      Condo's, Apartments (Section 8), 2-4 unit dwellings (but not accessory dwellings), commercial, etc.

  4. Peter L | | #5

    I just read an article that claimed rural/suburban living will be more in demand after this pandemic as people will NOT want to live in congested cities, on top of each other.

    No doubt, the greatest outbreaks were in crowded cities were people lived in high rises, commuted on mass transit, places like New York City and Chicago. Over 50+ NYC transit workers died already and 1,500 have tested positive with 6,000 on quarantine. Preliminary studies show that COVID19 circulated in the crowded mass transit systems of NYC. Also high-rise apartments and living spaces studies show that viruses spread through the walls and plumbing/venting systems since the units share the same plumbing and venting lines in the buildings. You can't air seal apartment or condo units. The air in one unit will circulate into another unit.

    https://thehill.com/changing-america/well-being/prevention-cures/482798-can-coronavirus-spread-through-pipes-officials

    Point is. The above GBA article and study is moot. COVID19 has and will change all such studies and social norms. People will view their life as before or after the pandemic. After the pandemic will be totally different than before the pandemic. So what was popular in housing before, might be disliked in the after. Being stuck inside a house for 30+ days will make people rethink what they dislike and like in housing designs. Same with multi family dwellings and congested city living. NYC and other major city living will lose their appeal for a lot of people. Rural and suburban living in more wide open spaces helps prevent the spread of viruses. Living in congested cities and using mass transit helps viruses spread rapidly and creates huge death rates during pandemics like this one.

  5. Peter L | | #6

    Another life lesson 75 years ago was during WWII. My grandparents survived the German invasion and death camps in Poland because they lived in a rural area. The major cities in Poland like Warsaw were bombed and turned into ghettos and death traps by the Third Reich troops. People from the cities fled (if they could) to the rural areas to avoid being killed or imprisoned.

    I am not a fan of "forcing" people to live in cramped major cities. Like the above article mentioned, there is a movement to force people to leave suburban and rural areas. Well, a lesson was learned in WWII by my family offspring and the COVID19 pandemic is lesson #2. Cramming people on top of each other like roaches and rats, mandating mass transit, has it's negative side effects. Viruses like the COVID19 will spread rapidly and wipe out tens or hundreds of thousands of people in a short period of time in congested cities.

    No thanks, I'll pass. It's rural/suburban living for me.

    1. Doug McEvers | | #7

      The theme song to Green Acres comes to mind. Country living is fine but where I come from most people of working age commute to the nearest metro area. Hard to say what will be after the virus. What we thought we had before will be worth a lot less with all of the money being created. The big run up in the stock market was mostly on cheap borrowed money, not true wealth creation as such. In the future those with the ability to pay will likely get hit hard with taxes and inflation.

  6. Matt Hutchins | | #13

    If the greenest home is the one you don't have to drive to and from everyday, then the rise of small 'plexes that are in areas already developed, with transit and access to amenities like parks and schools, is one of the most powerful ways to fight climate change. Doubling the number of households in residential areas is not some radical move, is nowhere near the density of big cities, but has dramatic benefits.

    •Doubling population-weighted density is associated with a 48% reduction in CO2 emissions from household travel.
    •Doubling population-weighted density is associated with a 35% reduction in CO2 emissions from residential energy use.
    •Doubling per capita transit subsidy is associated with a 46% lower VMT and 18% reduction in transportation CO2 emissions.
    https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/5a1c/3850019b5995791b22909e57e039f49c6d6e.pdf

    1. David B | | #15

      @matt, so, tearing down a house and filling up a land fill, then replacing that house with a 2 or 4 plex isn't green.

      There are no empty lots in the city to speak of in any major city save for the likes of Detroit, Baltimore, Philli and other deteriorating cities that people move from, not to.

      Contrary to the greenie talk track, covid 19 is not a tool to support green policies, it is just the opposite. It's a buzz saw right down the middle of the belief that people need to mass in a single location in a live/work scenario to save the planet. What covid-19 has done is prove that a large number of people can live in Montana while working for a company in Los Angeles. Look how many people are successfully working from home and I suspect a lot of them will never go back into the office. With the new awakening over the lurking dangers of human massing, I suspect there will be even more citizen pushback on the attempt to legislate the restructuring of SF neighborhoods.

      So, the greenest home, is really the one you didn't have to tear down an existing home to build. I can't tell you how many of house in my 1960s burb have been torn down in the last 8 years since I've lived here. I'm not talking junkers. I am talking houses that the developer paid $1,000,000 for, then took the business end of a d8 to it shortly thereafter. The joke is that all the developers then advertise this newly built house as "green" certified with a $2.5-$3mm+ price tag.

      Yes, you can go back and read my post, I live in a house that is over 4k sf. But I didn't tear one down to build it. I added on to one I bought. I can't say that I did not add to the land fill, but I can say it the transformation was designed to minimize waste.

      I guess the bottom line is that there are really no lots to build in any city worth living in and if you have to tear down a perfectly good house to build another one in its place, how green is that?

      1. User avater
        Peter Engle | | #17

        If you tear down a run-down SF property to build a midrise multifamily property in an area with decent access to infrastructure, it can be pretty green, especially if the demo includes a reasonable attempt at waste stream segregation and recycling. It's certainly a LOT greener than tearing down a modest SF home to build a McMansion on the same property.

      2. Matt Hutchins | | #29

        The idea that low density cities are somehow full with no more space to build places for people to live leads to sprawl, supercommutes and more climate change.
        1) In my city, Seattle, structures can only take up 35% of any single family lot, but we can infill accessory apartments and backyard cottages, increasing density from 1 household per parcel to 3, without needing to tear anything down. Indeed with a higher lot coverage we could house more and still have an Emerald City.
        2) We also recently changed a portion of SF zoned land from 1 principal residence per 5000 SF to 1 per 2000SF with 50% lot coverage which is perfect for new housing options taking advantage of backyard and alleys.
        3) Otherwise, just about every american city has been planned around the car and parking lots are perfect sites for more small development. We're building small apartment buildings behind old ones on their underused parking lots.
        4) Finally, we're living through a change from industry to service to now working from home and across the nation there are millions of acres of well situated but economically obsolete industrial and commercial lands.
        Anyway, these are just some of the ways we can put people close to jobs, transit, schools, parks and other amenities so they can live low carbon lifestyles, and not destroy the fabric of our communities.

  7. CarsonB | | #16

    I live in the state of Oregon and don’t recall “voting” on that. In fact according to npr, “The measure has largely been kept out of public view.” 10,000 people is a tiny town to be enacting zoning restrictions on.

  8. Eric Habegger | | #18

    I think this article is well timed and convincing. Many people, (most?) who live in rural states or rural areas of highly populated states seem to be using the Covad-19 pandemic to be divisive and to create an us vs them divide. People like the independence of not being shoulder to shoulder with one another. I'm one of them. I live in a rural area of a highly populated state after living in many decades in a highly populated area of the state. It feels good to me. However, I don't try to convince myself that what I'm doing is a greener lifestyle than my former life. Living in more densely populated areas and in multifamily units is inherently greener in its use of the Earth's resources than how I'm now living. What I'm doing is a luxury I can now afford in my retirement.

    I think the idea of using the Covad-19 to say rural is better overall is cherry picking to prop up one's own lifestyle. It is also premature to say that the pandemic effects in New York and other densely populated areas is proof that spread out living is better overall. The effects of anything can divided into both spatial and temporal effects. Can anyone say really say that the negative effects of living in a spread out manor will be a "net" positive effect on the planet over a 100 year time span? The Corona Virus's effect will be just a blip in a 100 year timespan.

    Also, I'm noticing a lot of triumphalism right now in people who live in rural areas due to the pandemic. My town is in a county of only 50,000 people and has only 5 confirmed cases and no deaths due to the CV as of now. But we don't deceive ourselves that this would change radically if we don't, and hadn't, exercised shelter in place early in combination with the closure of non-essential businesses. I have my doubts that rural areas of states that didn't implement those practices will be feeling so happy a month from now. I think its very premature to be patting oneself on the back in those states just because you live in a fairly rural area of that state. It almost seems like tempting fate and is just generally poor behavior in a crisis.

  9. Peter L | | #20

    Another problem that arose from the pandemic is that large municipal sewage plants are being over-worked and sewage treatment failures are starting to appear. Sewer lines are backing up. The reasons for the failure are many. Initial reports show that higher usage due to people staying at home, people flushing wipes down the toilet, more TP use, less workers at the sewage plants, etc. COVID19 can be spread through feces. I've lived in a city where the sewer system failed and backed-up into peoples homes. That was many years ago but it can happen, especially if the infrastructure systems begin to fail.

    Then it was announced today that many large cities are now stopping recycling programs and are taking all recyclables to the landfill as they don't have the manpower to do the recycling programs. Cities are cutting back on services and while it's not a collapse of the city system. It shows how quickly something like this can start to unravel city services.

    It's not an "us vs them" divide as someone stated. It's a freedom of choice. No government entity or movement should FORCE someone to live in the city if they choose not to. It's a freedom that each American can choose whether they want to live in a congested city environment or in a rural or suburban environment. I am 100% opposed to any movement or program that forces people to live in congested cities. Leave it up to the individual. The Third Reich forced people to live in city ghettos and I oppose any modern movement that does the same.

    1. Eric Habegger | | #21

      "It's not an "us vs them" divide as someone stated. It's a freedom of choice. No government entity or movement should FORCE someone to live in the city if they choose not to."

      Actually, that someone is me. When did someone ever say that government was going to force you to live in an urban environment. As far as I can tell there has never been any law, or close to one, that will force you to live in a city. That seems to be a straw man argument and is totally taking what I said out of context.

      I once used a Nazi reference about something I opposed. Malcolm Taylor, someone who I've sometimes had differences with, told me that there is a general rule that the first person to bring up Hitler or Nazism has lost the argument. I thought about it after he said it and decided with some chagrin that he was right. It means you are creating an oversimplification of what has been said and then creating a strawman that is easier to attack than the original argument. I think that is what you are doing.

      1. David B | | #22

        Actually, I think the first person to selectively quote what the the other person said in an effort to mislead is the one who loses. If you add on the next sentence "It's a freedom that each American can choose whether they want to live in a congested city environment or in a rural or suburban environment.", then Peter is correct.

        If you live in a suburban environment where your neighborhood is zoned SF, and it subsequently gets rezoned Multi family and high rise, you are being forced to now live somewhere you don't want to live. Consider the SF homeowner who can't afford to move.

        The bottom line is that there are no votes on this. This is something that the leftist, globalist are pushing through campaign contributions and who knows what else (Burisma much anyone?). And this development effort has found a whiling partner who has allowed these developer and politicians and special interest group to usurp their cause and message. Do you want to know who that whiling partner is? It's the green movement. Plain and simple.

        The green movement use to be about being green. Now, it's about how much money can be made through development, gov't funding, wind mills, trains, oversight, campaign donations, lobbyist, etc.

        The green movement allowed this to happen and are now a victim of the "mongoose and the rat" conundrum in Hawaii in the late 1880s. Look it up. As I have said before, I'd prefer this site remain apolitical, but when the blog posts are agenda based or just simply false on its face, of course people are going to call it out.

        1. Rick Evans | | #24

          I read the article. There is high demand in cities and limited supply. Adding multi-family units to single family zoned areas will increase supply and potentially lower prices while allowing more people to live in the city. You bring up an excellent point about how residents in the SF zoned areas may be forced to live with the changes that will affect their neighborhoods forever. They really DON'T have choice here.

          But you lost me on your conspiracy theories about the green movement, a Ukrainian Gas company, windmills (turbines?) and "Leftists Gloablists". I had to google the last one... This stuff seems pretty far fetched on its own but I also don't know how its relevant to zoning laws in Oregon? Im genuinely open to anything as I no longer read/watch the news but I'm going to need a lot of help here...

          1. David B | | #33

            Rick,

            Not conspiracy theory at all. It's all done in the open. The green movement use to be a movement to stop development. It use to be anti corporation. It use to be grassroots. All irrefutable. Now look at it. Money, money, money. That is what the green movement is about. Why? Not because those with the altruistic original focus have changed their views, but because they let their mission and message be usurped by the aforementioned corporations, politicians, lobbyist, etc. The "movement" is no longer about the kind of "green" it started out espousing. No, it's about a different kinda green. The one with $$$$$ in front of it.

            This blog (when some of the contributors are not Trump bashing) is a unicorn, a veritable throwback to what the green movement was about. A concept basically taken over and used as a means to control through the process of money. Pretty simple. Pretty well documented if you read something other than the NYT or CNN.

  10. Tyler Keniston | | #23

    I can't help but feel some folks are gawking at the weather and proclaiming climate trends have been bucked (proverbially).

    Like this sentiment David:
    "With the new awakening over the lurking dangers of human massing"

    New awakening? I mean, there are currently dangers, yes. But forever?

    The article was writing about trends, much in the way climate is a trend. We simply don't know what long-term trends are going to come from this currently unfolding pandemic. It's conjecture. Things will certainly change, but we don't know in what precise ways. Will everyone move out of cities!? Geez, I don't see how one could possibly know that. Seems unlikely to me. Also really undesirable.

    Additionally, nothing about the dangers mass-transit and dense living pose during a pandemic act as evidence against the environmental arguments in favor of denser living. Right? Can we agree on that pretty basic piece of logic? I know we all want to make everything about Covid these days, but... sometimes we need to separate variables.

    As far as our good 'ol personal opinions we all have so at the ready: again these are over-all trends. They don't care about any one individuals thoughts (or frankly emotions) on this matter. One can have their preference to not live in a city (I share that preference) and go about their day; I would think.

  11. Peter L | | #26

    Yes, I was misquoted because I was partially quoted and the final conclusion to my statement was purposely left out. My concluding sentences were, "It's a freedom that each American can choose whether they want to live in a congested city environment or in a rural or suburban environment. I am 100% opposed to any movement or program that forces people to live in congested cities. Leave it up to the individual. The Third Reich forced people to live in city ghettos and I oppose any modern movement that does the same. "

    Also, who is to say that using a Nazi reference in a discussion has "lost the argument"? That's like saying if you use a 9/11, Vietnam War, Exxon Valdez, Cold War, etc in a discussion then you have "lost the argument". What I did lose are family members in Poland to the Nazi's during WW2. My grandmother was raped by SS Soldiers and my grandfather was arrested for protecting a Jewish boy from the death camps. Other family members were murdered on the streets and in death camps like Auschwitz. So I can use the Nazi WW2 argument because it's relevant, plus it happened only 75 years ago, and my family lived through the horrors of it. Making some type of stupid rule that WW2 cannot be brought up is trying to erase history and it's a slap in the face for the millions who died.

    Changing zoning policies, like the article mentioned. Is a way to force people to live in high rise, multi-unit buildings. The article stated, "This approach has priced many people out of the quintessential American dream: home ownership. It also has promoted suburban sprawl—a pattern of low-density, car-dependent development that has dominated growth at the edges of urban areas since the end of World War II." Most of the major cities in Europe were bombed to oblivion during WW2 and it was the rural areas that people emerged from and were able to survive the 6 years of war. When Hitler launched his V1 and V2 rockets and during the Blitz, it was aimed at highly populated cities to get the most carnage, not rural areas.

    When a pandemic hits like COVID19, and more pandemics will follow, as this is not the first such pandemic and it won't be the last. Crowded cities and mass transit is the absolute worse thing to have as the virus spreads at catastrophic rates. New York City with its 120,000 cases and almost 11,000 deaths and counting. Well, that's the risk and con of living in a densely packed city and taking mass transit. Viruses thrive in such conditions. So it's not all roses and butterflies to live in a densely populated city. Not to mention crime and other issues.

    Leave it up to the individual where they want to live. Don't try and force some "green agenda" movement under the guise that all must follow it or they are not being environmentally sound. One can build an efficient home and live in a rural or suburban setting and doing their part to create a healthy planet. One can live in the city and take mass transit and do their part to create a healthy planet. It's an individual choice and one is not in the wrong for choosing either.

  12. Jason Volstad | | #27

    attitudes aren't changing, most people can't afford a detached house anymore. this entire article is way off base.

    1. John Clark | | #31

      IMO it is and it isn't. Portland area is a unique case because, IIRC, being a highly progressive city they wanted to reduce sprawl by halting expansive development while also discouraging higher density in order to preserve that "small city feel" which they love. Zoning was the tool to limit density. The end result is a lack of supply for housing.

      This is why, for example, there's a lack of housing in the bay area. NIMBY.

  13. Trevor Lambert | | #28

    I live out in the country on a few acres of land, growing almost all our own vegetables, raising some animals, etc. I don't consider this a more sustainable, or greener way of living than those packed in cities. That would be self delusion. I consider it a luxury, one that we justify by consuming far less than the average family.

    The fact is, we all can't live out in the country. Only a few of us can, and I count myself lucky that also few seem to want to.

    No one is bringing up the elephant in the room, the thing that makes living in cramped cities vs rural living the debate it is in the first place: population and economic growth. You can't have either of those things. And let me be clear, I'm not saying you can't have unchecked growth, or exponential growth. You can't have growth, at all, without acknowledging that at some point it's going to end. Either in a blaze of glory, or by us realising our entire way of life is a dead end. I think it's very unlikely to be the latter.

    So with that in mind, we have to conclude that if our goal is to put off the end as long as possible, cramming people in cities is far preferable to spreading people out. While neither model is sustainable in the long run, at least the population clustering model is viable at present. It's absolutely not viable for everyone to be living the rural lifestyle that some of us enjoy. I feel grateful to be living the rural lifestyle, not smug.

    1. etekberg | | #30

      And you know this by climate models? The ones that have failed to predict anything? The ones that are created by imperfect humans? The ones like the virus models?

      Humans adapt, nature adapts. Human predictions fail. I don't know what the future will bring, but I know that when someone else tells me they do they are full of it.

      Now where did I leave my flying car?

      1. Trevor Lambert | | #32

        You don't need a climate model and you need only the most basic understanding of math to know that in a finite system with growing demands it is only a matter of time before that growth will be stopped. You can try to model the time frame for when this will occur, but you cannot dispute it will occur without invoking magic.

        1. Jason Volstad | | #34

          Of course, only true if "finite system" is defined in your favor.

  14. Tyler Keniston | | #35

    Reading through these comments, one has to wonder: what are we even talking about? It seems as though the content of the article got left behind within the first comment or two. The train went off the tracks into the cornfield where straw-men are aplenty.

    If I'm not mistaken, the article was primarily discussing the loosening of zoning law restrictions. That's right, loosening of restrictions. To fill a market demand. There's a bit of a housing affordability crisis.

    The article also discusses the ways in which living in a city can provide opportunity to reduce environmental impact. Is anyone really refuting that? So far as I can tell, it didn't suggest that everyone must live in high density housing, or that it is the 'only' way to live an environmentally conscious life. (Please point out precisely where it did if I'm wrong). I think we can unclench from that a bit.

    Is all the panting really because people are against zoning law changes to allow market demands to be filled? Or are we just getting breathy in a fight with our own scarecrows?

    1. Expert Member
      Malcolm Taylor | | #36

      Tyler,

      I completely agree. People are pretty tightly wound right now. It's all fairly pointless.

    2. Gary | | #37

      It's all rather amusing, and predictable and sad. I'm nto sure where you're located, but these are exactly the sentiments expressed at first-Portland then-Oregon's efforts to end SF zoning. As if allowing a few homes per lot in much of the state is suddenly going to transform their neighborhood into high rises. The reailty is that for the vast majority of Oregonians, a second home will probably not be built on a neighboring lot; let alone a quadplex in most places in the state, that's just silly. But the mere idea that it's now theoretically possible--people are very defensive about their "choice" of housing. As if it was their god-goven right to live in a suburban single family zoned subdevelopment; a thing that has only existed for a few decades. Something that their parents moved into just in time to have them, they remained, and they've never actualy made any choice at all.

      I don't see too many tears shed by the "live suburban or die" crowd for the farmers that now have a 8 lane "interstate" as a neighbor to service their commute, or the people of color who had a nice inner-suburban home that was bulldozed for the same. But, but choice!!!

      1. David B | | #38

        @gary. None of what you wrote makes sense. For example:

        "The reailty is that for the vast majority of Oregonians, a second home will probably not be built on a neighboring lot; let alone a quadplex in most places in the state, that's just silly."

        Hmm, so, since the vast majority of people will not get in a car accident on their drive home from work, there is really no reason to wear a seatbelt? Or, since you likely won't get cancer, there's really no reason to pay for health insurance.

        Hate these types of strawman arguements. Oh, don't worry, this will probably never happed to you, just your neighbor or your neighbors neighbor, so it's no big deal. And, of course those will be used for long term housing and not an Airbnb, right...

        And what "right" do you have to expect that the house you bought in a SF zoned neighborhood with each neighbor having one house on their lot, will remain a such?

        Ugh, how do some people function in life when they have just resolved to the fact that you just bend over and take whatever is given to you. God bless those in the country who actually man and woman up and say NIMBY to stupid crap like three houses on a lot.

        Three types of people:

        1. Those who watch what happens

        2. Those who make it happen

        3. those who say, "what the heck just happened"

        Sadly, most people fall under #3

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