Thinking Big and Building Small to Respond to Today’s Housing Crisis
By Daniel Parolek
Reviewed by Richard K. Rein
Sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words. Other times a thousand words can paint a picture. Both ways work in this timely new book, Missing Middle Housing.
The picture is actually a diagram showing detached single family homes on the one side, and bulky mid-rise apartment buildings on the other. For many towns these are the two principal housing choices. For apartment dwellers the recurring question is when or if they can make the leap to a single family (and often very expensive) house. In between those two choices author and architect Daniel Parolek shows examples of “missing middle housing:” duplexes, triplexes, multiplexes, courtyard apartments, bungalow courts, townhouses, and live/work units.
The word portrait is the preface, where Parolek shows how his path to missing middle housing began in Columbus, Nebraska, an old-fashioned, walkable town of 18,000. As a kid Parolek could visit his great-grandmother in her 600-square foot apartment carved out of a classic Victorian duplex. A senior year design studio at the Notre Dame School of Architecture opened his eyes to the multiple building and housing types already existing into many neighborhoods. After earning a masters in urban design at Berkeley, he formed his own firm, Opticos Design. The first major project for the Berkeley-based firm was a master plan for the nearby community of Isla Vista. Townspeople were feeling overwhelmed by poorly designed, high density apartment buildings. A citizens advisory group told Parolek’s firm that the community couldn’t accept any future developments with a density of more than 18 units per acre.
What would be acceptable? Parolek took townspeople on a walking tour of Santa Barbara, which has a wide range of missing middle housing types. The one site loved by everyone in the group was a two-story, C-shaped Spanish Revival courtyard building. They all agreed it was the kind of housing that zoning should permit. Then Parolek calculated the density — almost 45 units per acre. Parolek then was able to shift the conversation away from abstract numbers to more visible aspects of form and building type.> Read More …