ULI NWA InSight Dinner Series 2022
InSight Dinners are an opportunity to bring together local thinkers and doers from across the community, break bread, and support change!
August 3, 2022
By Deborah L. Myerson, AICP
What is “missing middle” housing, and why is it important for communities?
National speaker, architect, urban designer, and author Daniel Parolek joined the Northwest Arkansas Community of Practice on May 13 at an Aligned for Affordability Policy and Practice Seminar to talk about how communities can support more diverse and affordable housing community.
Parolek has advocated widely for Missing Middle Housing, launched missingmiddlehousing.com, and authored “Missing Middle Housing: Thinking Big and Building Small to Respond to Today’s Housing Crisis,” published by Island Press in 2020.
Policy, planning and zoning can create barriers to the delivery of Missing Middle Housing types and how planners can respond to make way for more housing options. Parolek noted that the widely shared “Missing Middle Housing” diagram produced by his firm, Opticos Design, has given planners, developers, architects a way to talk about housing choices—and an alternate way to have conversations about housing.
Defining Missing Middle Housing
“Increasing neighborhood density” is a common way for planners to approach adding more housing options in neighborhoods. Parolek asked, “How many neighborhood groups do you feel are going to really excited about the fact that you are coming into their neighborhood and increasing the density?
He added, “’Density’ is a term we need to stop using. When you are communicating in a plan to your decisionmakers, it doesn’t mean anything…It’s really an inaccurate way to measure housing.”
Fourplex – Berkeley, CA 22.5 DU
Rather than density, Parolek urged the planners to focus on the definition of Missing Middle Housing: house-scale units with multiple units in walkable neighborhoods. “Just because there’s more units in a building, doesn’t mean the building is getting bigger. It’s that you’re getting more units in a house-scale building.”
Isla Vista CA 42 du
He discussed some of the barriers to Missing Middle Housing, emphasizing that form-based code is a key tool —by targeting form, scale, building types, and how they fit on lots. “Zoning is an out-of-date operating system,” he explained.
What is the Most Convenient Option?
Joining the Policy and Practice Seminar were a panel of commentators:
Marta Goldsmith, director of the Form-Based Code Institute, facilitated the discussion.
Panelists considered barriers and opportunities for Missing Middle Housing in Northwest Arkansas, from minimum lot sizes to utilities to minimum parking requirements. Commentators agreed on the benefits of ample graphics for a zoning code, with illustrations to show what regulations would actually allow.
To foster Missing Middle Housing development, Hoffman and Petty have worked on multi-type Pattern Zones for municipalities, a program that offers pre-approved building types complete with full builder’s sets of drawings to prospective small-developers within specific municipal study areas.
Courtyard unit Midtown Pattern Zone – Miller Boskus Lack Architects
The planners in the audience gathered in breakout groups to talk more about the potential for increasing Missing Middle Housing in their communities, and adding more density in single-family zones. Some of the key themes that emerged:
Bungalow Court – Alameda, CA 22.6 DU
Hoffman explained: “We could do the kind of MMH development that Dan has told us about—but only if It is the most convenient option.” Petty agreed, adding “Quality infill needs to be as easy to build as a single-family house.”
This event was part of the year-long “Aligned for Affordability” initiative hosted by ULI Northwest Arkansas, aimed at understanding our region’s housing market, identifying constraints to housing production in varying forms and locales, and advancing policy recommendations that ensure lasting affordability and vibrant neighborhoods to the working families of Northwest Arkansas.
Deborah L. Myerson, AICP, is a housing and community development consultant based in Bloomington, Indiana.
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