Letters to the Editor

Missing Middle is the least we can do

For years now, America has faced a housing crisis. More specifically, there is a housing shortage, particularly in urban areas with their access to jobs and businesses. We experience a shortage as a lack of affordability, but no amount of subsidized (”affordable”) housing can change the implications of under supply. In this game of musical chairs, many must simply go without. If they want access to the jobs and cultural amenities that tend to cluster in urban areas, this shortage forces them to the far-flung suburbs, from which they must endure long commutes.

Due to a severe historical underinvestment in mass transit, those commutes are primarily by car, often with single occupants. This increases CO2 emissions and traffic fatalities, not to mention the prevalence of negative health outcomes associated with inactivity. But despite the dire warnings of the impacts of climate change, and the human toll of housing scarcity, we somehow cannot muster the courage to change our habits and make sacrifices for the greater good.

If we had that courage, we would see that the answer is clear and easily attainable. We see it in the urban planning practices in places like the Netherlands. Zoning codes and traffic planning are human-centered. Pedestrians are prioritized over cars. And single-family homes are the exception, not the rule.

A proportional response to these problems would amount to a rapid and radical restructuring of our zoning laws. Given that, the Missing Middle plan is incredibly modest. It’s the least we can do.