One common NIMBY* argument is that new housing (or the wrong kind of new housing) will “destroy the neighborhood.” For example, one suburban town’s politicians fought zoning reform in New York by claiming that allowing multifamily housing “is a direct assault on the suburbs.“
Indeed, many people do seem to believe that apartments and houses are somehow incompatible. But I saw an interesting counterexample recently.
A couple of weeks ago, I attended the CNU (Congress for the New Urbanism) conference in Charlotte, North Carolina. CNU usually sponsors neighborhood tours, and I toured Myers Park, one of the city’s richest neighborhoods. Myers Park was built in the 1910s; most blocks are dominated by large single-family houses with an enormous tree canopy. Although Myers Park is only a couple of miles from downtown Charlotte, it certainly looks suburban, if by “suburban” you mean low-density and dominated by houses. (According to city-data.com, the neighborhood density is just below 4000 people per square mile, less than that of affluent Long Island suburbs like Great Neck and Cedarhurst).
And yet on one of the neighborhood’s major streets (Queens Road) apartments and houses seemed to alternate. This does not seem to have reduced home values; the average value of detached homes there is over $1 million, about four times the statewide average.
Moreover, Myers Park apartments are not the sort of “missing middle” housing that is virtually indistinguishable from a house. I saw a five-story building in Myers Park: not a skyscraper but definitely not something that looks like its neighbors. Not far away is a four-story building that looks like it has a few dozen units.
In other words, apartments and houses can coexist, even in places that are very suburban in many ways.
*As many readers of this blog probably know, NIMBY is an acronym for “Not In My Back Yard.”