Should Cities Mandate Yards?

In communities across the U.S., setback requirements and lot coverage maximums mandate acres of private open spaces. Eliminating such requirements could produce more affordable and more eco-friendly places, argues Matthew Yglesias.
August 28, 2013, 9am PDT | Jonathan Nettler | @nettsj
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"It’s rarely commented on, but with few exceptions, the American landscape is not only dotted with back and front yards but with legal requirements that homeowners maintain such yards," observes Yglesias. "This is, perhaps, an expression of the mainstream view that outside is a great place to be. But if outside is so great, then surely renters and homebuyers alike will gladly pay for the privilege even without legal requirement."

"Without side yards, a given block can accommodate more houses," he continues. "With smaller—or absent—front and back yards, a given square mile can accommodate more blocks. Either way, by giving up on yard space people can get more affordable homes. That kind of 'less lawn, more density' approach is unambiguously eco-friendly, as it would reduce sprawl and leave more space for real nature outside the outer boundaries of urban development."

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Published on Monday, August 19, 2013 in Slate
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