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In worship of the single-family residential zone

Daniel Hertz of City Observatory recently published an interesting post talking about what makes American zoning unique compared to the rest of the world. It is based on the conclusions of a book published earlier this year called Zoned in the USA.

Here are 2 snippets that I liked from his post:

Hirt’s major claim is that what really sets American zoning apart is its orientation, explicit or implicit, to putting the single-family residential zone at the top of the hierarchy of urban land uses. Not only are single-family zones listed first in many zoning codes, but they make up significant pluralities, or even majorities, of total land area in most American cities. Interestingly, Hirt points out that this wasn’t necessarily true when zoning was first introduced: New York’s famous first zoning law didn’t even have a single-family zone at all.

As Hirt points out, Americans appear to be unique in believing that there is something so special about single-family homes that they must be protected from all other kinds of buildings and uses—even other homes, if those homes happen to share a wall. The recent revolt in Seattle over a proposal to soften that city’s single-family districts, in other words, would not be possible anywhere else in the world, not least because very few people live in single-family districts to begin with.

I don’t know if Canada is covered in the book, but we clearly share many similarities with that of the US.

I would say more, but at this point in the day I should probably rest my eyes and stop looking at a computer screen. Hopefully we can continue this discussion in the comment section below.

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