Why Duplexes And Townhomes Make Urban Areas More ‘Walkable’

It’s all about the density.

By Courtney CollinsMay 1, 2015 8:08 am

This story originally appeared on KERA News

Architects and planners from across the country have flown or driven to Dallas for the 23rd annual Congress for the New Urbanism. But they would have rather walked.

“Walkability” is the big focus for this year’s event and experts say duplexes and townhouses help keep people on the sidewalk and out of their cars.

Two dozen urban planners trooped around Oak Cliff’s Bishop Arts neighborhood Wednesday afternoon. They liked what they saw.

“What I understand is happening here on Davis Street as we’re coming up to it is you are starting to see some of these vacant shop fronts that haven’t had businesses in them for a while start to fill with new restaurants, new coffee shops, other new businesses that people really want to have within walking distance of their housing,” says Dan Parolek with Opticos Design, a firm out of Berkeley, California.

He says one of the reasons Bishop Arts works so well as an urban, walkable neighborhood is because of the housing available.

“Housing types like the duplexes, the four-plexes, courtyard apartments, that are inherent in these pre-1940s neighborhoods,” says Parolek.

He calls this “missing middle housing” and says it’s the key to urban walkability. But why? The concept is actually pretty simple: density. If one family lives in a home, that’s one household with purchasing power. If that same house was a four-plex, four households are shopping and eating at neighborhood stores.

“That, sort of intensity of people can start to support the local businesses and it can also support transportation options like a bus, like the one that goes through this neighborhood,” Parolek says.

And while large apartment complexes are much denser than a duplex, that’s not what this group wants. Maintaining the feel and look of a neighborhood is important too.

“The missing middle housing types, even though they’re multiple units, are still at the scale of a house,” says Parolek.

Like the duplex Maria Espinosa owns on Eighth Street, not even a block off Bishop Arts’ main drag. Espinosa has seen this neighborhood evolve over 45 years, and says there’s a lot to enjoy these days.

“The stores and the little restaurants,” says Espinoas. “And the people, they walk every day.

Dan Parolek says 15 percent of the real estate in Bishop Arts is considered “missing middle housing.” And that makes this neighborhood worth the walk.