Monday, December 14, 2009

Can Row Houses Save the World?

Row Houses in Harlem
From Google Maps Street View

After I got to New York it didn't take me long to get obsessed with row houses (a.k.a. brownstones, attached single family residences, etc.). Just look at that picture. First of all, this is one of the most charming streets I have ever seen. Each house is narrow but manages to have a lot of space by going upwards and going back. Each house also has a small back yard.

These houses are much denser than small lot detached single family homes because they share walls. That means they're adding the degree of density a city needs to be walkable, bikable, and have good transit service. Also, they open up the prospect of home ownership in the city with only two shared walls (as opposed to four shared walls in most condominium units). It's also possible to design them with parking, which I saw in Staten Island (garage on the first floor), although that would be anathema in Manhattan, which is reluctant to provide off-street parking anywhere.

Here's something to chew on. In Philadelphia according to the 2006-2008 American Community Survey, 61% of the housing units were row houses (very high), 57% of housing units were owner-occupied (not bad), and 26% of workers took transit to work (high for an American city). If you add attached single family and duplexes (which are similar) together, NYC has 21% of its housing in these categories and LA has only 9%.

If Philadelphia can have widespread home ownership and excellent and transit use, why can't LA?

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