Urban Design Program Spotlights Opportunities in Missing Middle Housing

Urban Design Program Spotlights Opportunities in Missing Middle Housing

“Missing middle housing” describes mid-range scale, multi-family structures that increase the supply of homes to promote sustainable, diverse, and walkable neighborhoods.

March 23, 2023

Urban designers, urban planners, architects, and others in the fields that research, plan, design, develop, and regulate housing in our communities are exploring ways to expand access to “missing middle housing.” The term, coined by author Dan Parolek, who wrote the book on the matter, Missing Middle Housing: Thinking Big and Building Small to Respond to Today’s Housing Crisis, describes mid-range scale, multi-family structures in scarce supply, like duplexes, fourplexes, and courtyard buildings, that increase the supply of homes to promote sustainable, diverse, and walkable neighborhoods.

Denver and Missing Middle Housing

On March 2, 2023, the College of Architecture and Planning’s Master of Urban Design (MUD) program hosted a signature event spotlighting missing middle housing and featuring a presentation by the topic’s leading expert, Parolek. The event was hosted at the soon-to-be-remodeled historic Evans School in Downtown Denver’s Golden Triangle District and welcomed over 150 invited guests who share an interest in housing abundance and Denver’s urban design future.

“This event allowed us to showcase the talent and creativity of our Urban Design students and faculty, and to demonstrate the important role our program plays at the College of Architecture and Planning in teaching and training students to become exceptional urban design thinkers, practitioners, and leaders. As the only MUD program in the Rocky Mountain region, we study and develop innovative urban design concepts and strategies—like missing middle housing—and then work with local practitioners and the community on their implementation” explained Ken Schroeppel, Urban Design Program Director. “This real-world engagement and ‘learning by doing’ is a hallmark of our urban design program. We want people to know that.”

Photo by Master of Urban and Regional Planning student Lee Dubin.

The City and County of Denver is expected to grow by more than 110,000 people by 2040. While some of that growth can be accommodated in new, high-density housing Downtown and near transit stations, the remaining growth will need to be accommodated throughout Denver’s urban neighborhoods in the form of missing middle housing.

Allowing and incentivizing missing middle housing in neighborhoods dominated by single-family detached homes will be an important step in helping Denver increase the supply, diversity, and affordability of its housing stock. Putting more housing in established neighborhoods is an environmentally sustainable way to accommodate growth without generating urban sprawl, and it allows more people to take advantage of nearby bike, pedestrian, and transit infrastructure. Adding missing middle housing throughout Denver also allows the city to finally address decades of exclusionary land use and zoning policies originally developed as tools for racial and economic segregation.

In fact, the Colorado State Legislature recently introduced a comprehensive housing bill that, if passed and signed by the governor, would require larger communities throughout the state to allow missing middle housing on lots currently zoned for single-family homes only. The focus on missing middle housing types in the state’s proposed legislation signals the importance and relevancy of this housing type to the future growth and urban design of communities throughout Colorado and the U.S., placing CU Denver’s Urban Design program at the forefront of this issue.

Urban Design Students Develop Strategies for Missing Middle Housing in Denver

Denver’s missing middle housing typologies and strategies were the focus of the fall 2022 semester’s Urban Design Studio I, taught by Adjunct Associate Professor Peter Park.
For the studio, students were asked to consider and examine the following: How should Denver plan for diverse missing middle housing options at attainable price points to allow all Denver neighborhoods to be complete, walkable communities? From an urban design perspective, how can Denver craft design policies, incentives, and regulations that will allow missing middle housing to integrate seamlessly into established urban neighborhoods? 

Photo by Master of Urban and Regional Planning student Lee Dubin.

“Our annual Urban Design Spotlight event each spring focuses on a contemporary urban design issue that was also the focus of our fall semester Urban Design studio. This allows the community to see how our Urban Design program is directly engaging on critical urban planning and design issues and helping move the needle in addressing these issues in Denver. The event also elevates the awareness of our MUD program and the College of Architecture and Planning as national thought leaders in how to plan and design sustainable and equitable cities. Events like these also give us a chance to show the students’ amazing work and how proud we are of them,” Schroeppel added.
To help further the College of Architecture and Planning’s mission to ignite evolution that enriches places for people and the planet, the College has created the Ron Straka Urban Design Program Fund. This gift fund ignites evolution by supporting MUD students as they learn how to create great places that are sustainable, inclusive, equitable, healthy, and inspiring through urban design.
Contribute to the Ron Straka Urban Design Program Fund.

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