“Large swaths of our city are exclusively zoned for single-family homes, so unless you have the ability to build a very large home on a very large lot, you can’t live in the neighborhood,” says Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey, reflecting on his city’s Minneapolis 2040 plan, adopted this past December. Aimed at tackling the city’s shortage of affordable housing as well as a legacy of economic and racial segregation, the plan calls for higher-density housing along transit corridors and allows triplexes to be built across much of the city — including neighborhoods previously zoned exclusively for single-family houses.

Faced with growing populations and a dire shortage of affordable housing, cities such as Seattle and the entire state of Oregon are contemplating similar measures. A growing number of cities nationwide have already done away with minimum parking requirements in order to spur development. And Grand Rapids, Michigan, actually jettisoned single-family zoning in favor of a more form-based code a decade ago and experienced 6 percent growth without an attendant apocalypse of traffic and crowding.

That doesn’t stop folks from freaking out, though. The Minneapolis proposal first prompted push-back from a group calling itself “Minneapolis for Everyone” — whose support, despite the name, was concentrated in the whitest and wealthiest parts of the city where single-family zoning predominates. Nor was that the only irony, since a fair number of the group’s signs, with the slogan “don’t bulldoze our homes,” popped up in front of homes where the owner had previously demolished an older, modest home to make way for a much larger mansion (teardowns such as the one that recently made news locally as the “McMansion on Magnolia” are far more common in Minneapolis). And then there’s the fact that opponents decried Minneapolis 2040 as “a radical experiment in social engineering,” conveniently forgetting that single-family zoning is the single most successful social engineering experiment in American history, albeit with some troubling associations.

New York had dabbled with height restrictions as early as the 1880s and Los Angeles became the first city to codify the separation of residential and industrial areas in 1908, but zoning in America didn’t really gain momentum until the Standard State Zoning Enabling Act of 1922 established the template for the zoning ordinances that, in many forms, survive to this day — including single-family zoning (perhaps coincidentally, the Supreme Court had declared race-based residential exclusion ordinances unconstitutional some five years earlier). And in 1926, the Supreme Court upheld a municipality’s right to exclude certain uses — including apartments — from areas zoned single-family residential, overturning a lower court’s finding such ordinances explicitly aimed at preventing “the colored or certain foreign races from invading a residential section.”

Since then, single-family zoning has been a mainstay of American middle-class and upper-middle-class life, reshaping the way we build and live and providing the planning framework for suburban sprawl — which leads to the final irony of the Minneapolis 2040 fight. Fearing that Minneapolis for All’s “not in my back yard” argument was falling flat, opponents formed a new group that filed a lawsuit to stop the plan, pushed the idea that single-family suburbia is more environmentally friendly and called themselves “Smart Growth Minneapolis.”

(7) comments


Yeah, what about that “McMansion on Magnolia?" After all the negative articles printed here stoking the fires of dissent by the neighbors and shaming the homeowner for doing what he wanted to with his property, why hasn't the FNP done a follow up story with pictures of the finished house? Could it be because those nosey neighbors were actually wrong and this house is not only NOT a "McMansion" but turned out to be a beautiful home after all? This paper should be ashamed of the way it covered this whole story with no pictures of the completed work.


I think it meets the general definition of McMansion ("a large modern house that is considered ostentatious and lacking in architectural integrity") but so what? The owners complied with the zoning regs as they existed.


Neighbors have to live in peace at some point. It's done. Curious? Drive by, it's a public street.


Been by it many a time. Not my taste -- too many clashing architectural styles -- but so what.


Public, I don't think the house is either ostentatious or lacking in architectural integrity. And neither did my wife when we drove by it sometime after the last pictures of it were published here. This house may be large but it has an individual character, unlike real "McMansions" which are usually found in subdivisions and are all large and virtually identical. I believe this is a case where a man simply had the money to build a large, nice house in a nice neighborhood and that's just what he did. Either way, after all the negative publicity this paper gave the guy, the least they could do would be to show a picture of the finished structure. But, that would just prove that all that negative publicity was uncalled for, and they sure ain't gonna admit that.


The original “McMansions” were built in old neighborhoods of ranchers and split levels where the buyer would tear down the original home and build a large modern “McMansion” as the neighbors would call it as it didn’t fit into the neighborhood well. It started in Northern Virginia neighborhoods inside the beltway during the dot.com era where the newly rich wanted to live close to the action but the Showcase homes they wanted weren’t available in the close-in built out neighborhoods that had good size lots. It’s still happening. Drive through McLean, Falls Church, Arlington, etc. and see the large homes of eclectic architectural styles standing among the much smaller homes of the 1950’s.


I gathered from your first comment that you like it.

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