Improving Residential Inclusiveness, Sustainability, and Affordability by Ending Single-Family Zoning

(Contributed by Ben Rudick and Steve Revilak)

We should end exclusionary Single Family Zoning in Arlington. This is inspired by Minneapolis which ended Single Family Zoning city-wide last year, as Oregon did. To be clear, we’re not suggesting an end to single family homes, only to exclusionary Single Family Zoning; you can still have a single-family house, but now you’d have the option to build a two-family or duplex instead.

79% of all residential land in Arlington is zoned exclusively for single family homes (in the R0 and R1 districts), meaning the only legal use of that land is for a single home built upon a large lot (source: Arlington GIS via the Department of Planning and Community Development). This is a problem for three key reasons:

  1. Single Family Zoning has a deeply racist past. It came into being after a 1917 Supreme Court ruling made it illegal to have “Whites only” neighborhoods. Instead, towns and cities, as encouraged by the federal government, enacted zoning that used economics instead of explicit racism to segregate neighborhoods. A popular strategy was to require large lots on which only expensive, individual homes could be built. Here’s an excellent short video on the topic: https://www.segregatedbydesign.com/
  2. It’s terrible for the environment. Living in a Single Family Home is akin to driving alone instead of carpooling or taking the bus: it’s the most carbon-intensive way to put a roof over your head. The more people you can house in the same structure, the less energy you spend per person. By spreading people out, we’re increasing the amount we drive and the carbon we emit. And we’re contributing to traffic congestion too.
  3. Arlington is becoming increasingly unaffordable. We have a massive (and growing) housing shortage; combined with continued job growth in the Greater Boston area, housing has gotten dramatically more expensive over the last 20 years. The only way for us to keep rising home prices in check is to significantly increase supply, which will be extremely difficult to do while keeping so much of our land reserved for single family homes.

If you’d like to support us, please share this post and join our Facebook group, Arlington Neighbors for More Neighbors, where we’ll post updates and hearing times for the warrant article we’ve submitted to effect this change.

Reinhardt on Sustainable Housing Ideas

Prof. Christophe Reinhardt runs the MIT Sustainable Design Lab.  On Nov. 25, 2019 he gave a very interesting presentation, including talk and slides, that shows a pathway to make more housing, all kinds of housing, and greater housing density both more palatable in Arlington, and actually desirable.  He also stressed the importance of paying attention to housing now in order to meet the climate change challenge. Charts (starting about 10 min in) show how drastically we need to reduce our carbon footprint to reach net zero by 2050. Buildings today account for about 40% of our carbon emissions world wide. What we build today will likely be around through 2050.

Paying attention to housing design is important to create a sustainable environment.

Here is the link for the Reinhardts talk and slide show:
http://scienceforthepublic.org/energy-and-resources/designing-sustainable-urban-development

or see it on youtube: https://youtu.be/YAeCvUZmUrI

He uses research, drawn from around the world and locally, to show what measurable attributes make local communities desirable to live in and what attributes of housing make residents happy. 

Key attributes for success (slide is at about 18:15 min. in presentation):

1.  Economic opportunities (proximity to work opportunities)

2.  High quality living (daylight access for buildings, streets, walkable, mixed use, micro-units, vibrant public spaces, organic food, fitness opportunities)

3.  Sustainability (comfortable work and play and living spaces, resource efficiency)

The presentation was arranged by the Robbins Library. It was developed and recorded by Science for the Public as part of it’s lecture series.

For more information on sustainability and cities, cities and local municipalities are beginning to recognize the important linkages between urban resiliency, human well-being, and climate change mitigation and adaptation activities. https://news.mongabay.com/2019/11/how-cities-can-lead-the-fight-against-climate-change-using-urban-forestry-and-trees-commentary/ Courtesy of Science for the Public Interest Weekly News Roundup.


(For more opportunities to learn about sustainability, buildings and cities, sign up for the FREE MITx “Sustainable Building Design” online course which starts January.)