Missing Middle Density Will Take More Than Zoning Changes

Looking for change in the housing supply? "Don't stop at the zoning code and think you're done. There's so much work left to do."

2 minute read

September 8, 2020, 6:00 AM PDT

By James Brasuell @CasualBrasuell

Residential Neighborhood

719production / Shutterstock

Daniel Herriges picks up the debate that has ensued since news broke about the lack of development response to the reforms approved in the Minneapolis 2040 Comprehensive Plan in December 2018 and implemented by a following ordinance in November 2019.

As reported by Hannah Jones for City Pages, only three permits for triplexes on land previously zoned for single-family detached homes have been processed in the city this year. Herriges writes to defend the Minneapolis, and to push for more reforms.

So does this mean that the policy—one that we have praised here at Strong Towns and encouraged as a model for other places—is a failure? That the naysayers were right, incremental development is irrelevant to a city like Minneapolis, and future zoning or housing reforms should focus on much larger residential projects instead?

The answer is no. This is still an important policy step, one that I believe was necessary—but never sufficient—to achieve a healthier and more resilient housing market. It was never going to work short-term miracles on its own, and results so far should be a cautionary tale to those who think zoning alone is capable of that. But it's a crucial long-term step anyway.

Herriges then provides an explanation for why the city's zoning changes have yet to achieve a more robust effect, summarized with the statement that zoning is not the sole determining factor in land use decisions. Moreover, development patterns take time to change. A period of less than nine months, marred by the economic uncertainty of a global pandemic, isn't enough time to determine the success of these zoning changes.

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