Would Building Homes in the Streets Really Work?

Converting streets into houses has been the dominant idea on this blog over the last week or two. After proposing the idea, I also diagrammed it (crudely), and argued that it would provide more housing for young families.

Anyway, perhaps sensing my growing obsession, a friend with far more knowledge and expertise than I took a more realistic look at the idea to see if it would actually work. Among other things he produced some incredible images of what this idea might look like:

The two homes to the left of the narrow street are hypothetical additions.

This image captures the idea: there’s more green space, homes designed for owner-occupants, and a street that is likely to discourage speeding.

As is apparent here, this idea results in more trees, more yard space, and more walkability.

One of the things I love about these images is that even though they’re just renderings, the homes are clearly designed for long-term, family residents. They also fit in with the craftsman-style architecture found in Provo’s pioneer neighborhoods. This is all hypothetical of course, but it shows that converting streets to houses at least can mean adding beautiful buildings and wonderful neighbors.

This rendering is looking at the houses from the east (looking west).

As wonderful as these pictures are, however, this idea comes with some major challenges. For example, the same friend who made these renderings pointed out that there are significant political obstacles to actually doing this. The benefits of having houses instead of streets — or in other words, of density — are well documented on this blog and elsewhere, but no one likes to think of some new thing coming in and ruining the neighborhood. However, I think these renderings should go a long way to assuaging those fears.

Note the pleasant, gently curving sidewalk.

Opinions can change and I don’t think political will is an insurmountable problem, especially with images like these.

However, debate and blog posts won’t solve actual infrastructure challenges. For example, my friend noted that streets in Provo are lined below ground with pipes, water mains, sewer lines, and other utilities. Obviously, a developer can’t just build a home on top of those things.

Even worse, altering or rerouting  those utilities would make construction considerably more expensive. If the city gave the land away, the project might remain profitable for the developer. (Keep in mind that the city just gave away a whole street to Nu Skin, so this does happen and can be mutually beneficial.)

The city could also pay to have the pipes and utilities rerouted, and then get reimbursed through the sale of the property.

But either way, my friend pointed out, this idea wouldn’t make a lot of money for the city. That was one of my original arguments, of course, but even so the city would still have some additional revenue. It would also save on infrastructure; there would be less street and city land to maintain, which of course translates into savings, especially longterm.

My friend also worked up a table of very rough cost and revenue estimates emerging from this idea:

I cropped this image so it’d be easier to read online, but that sentence basically just says that the lots might need to be given away in order for this to work.

And as is apparent, this isn’t wildly lucrative. But the savings do add up over time and I’ve always felt like it’s important to consider what the city will be like in 50, 100, or even 500 years. And in the end, this does provide a more solid financial footing for our children, grandchildren and later descendants.

This idea blends so well into the neighborhood it’d be hard for a visitor to realize that any of the homes sit on former streets.

There are ways to work around these infrastructure problems, but I’ll tackle those in a future post.

That said, seeing these pictures left me more convinced than ever that this idea could work. More importantly, it could be a major improvement to existing neighborhoods because it would add more homes and more great people.

Someday we could have more families and beautiful homes in neighborhoods by building on top of asphalt.


Filed under building, construction, Development

10 responses to “Would Building Homes in the Streets Really Work?

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