What Happened When Arlington Cut Out the 'Missing Middle'

In Arlington, restricting density to preserve neighborhood character isn't new. A rowhouse ban in 1938 may be one factor behind today's steep prices and gentrification.

1 minute read

June 17, 2017, 11:00 AM PDT

By Philip Rojc @PhilipRojc


Homes

Jeramey Lende / Shutterstock

David Whitehead covers the long-standing problem of "missing middle" housing in Arlington, Virginia. In the 1930s, during a boom period, developers were keen to replace older bungalows with rowhouses. "That didn't sit well with community leaders at the time, who hoped to preserve Arlington's then-suburban character. Rowhouses, they believed, would 'mar the suburban landscape.' And so, in 1938, the county changed its zoning to prohibit rowhouses."

Today, Whitehead argues, the Washington D.C. region faces a similar problem, but one that's been exacerbated by the previous century's failure to build infill housing. "According to its place in our metropolitan hierarchy, Arlington should have a lot of rowhouses. But it doesn't, because 79 years ago preserving a community character that was unpreservable anyway was a higher priority than building enough housing during an ongoing boom."

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