Build your own pocket neighborhood

Late last year, I wrote a series of posts about the potential of adding infill on streets that are too wide. A lot of people loved the idea, but for a lot of logistical reasons, few thought it would actually work. (I’m not one of them; where there’s a will there’s a way, I think.)

But the many conversations I had in the wake of those posts emphasized to me one thing: infill in Utah is mostly only going to happen if individuals do it because cities lack the will or sense of urgency to make it a reality.

Luckily, it’s at least theoretically possible for small time investors and property owners to do infill.

In some cities — e.g. Vancouver — homeowners can already build multiple houses on their single family lots:

Last year, Coquitlam introduced a new kind of zoning that will allow owners to build four small houses on a single-family lot, as well as triplexes, fourplexes and fiveplexes. (Homeowners can choose which of those rezoning options they prefer in certain designated areas of the city.)

In other words, this idea lets people with a bit of land — a yard, for example — build little pocket neighborhoods like these.

The article goes on to discuss how this idea is allowing families to live together across multiple generations — which is going to be a major issue as the baby boomers enter old age.

Obviously, this also has the potential to significantly enrich homeowners; take a yard that costs money and convert it to several houses that can be sold, and the residents suddenly become much, much richer. (I suspect three single family homes in Provo could gross nearly a million dollars). This approach also offers more choice, as people are free to do traditional suburban homes or more compact housing. In that way it’s a fundamentally conservative idea because it affords property owners more rights and more freedom.

In any case, this idea doesn’t solve the problem of wide streets. But it does allow cities to add housing, density and diversity. In Utah, it would also allow relatively built-up cities like Provo and Salt Lake City to add housing in a way that will help them better compete with the rapidly growing suburbs. It’s a good idea, and there’s no reason not to try it now.

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