Minneapolis skyline University of Minnesota

In an effort to reinvent housing, developers are collaborating with city officials to create policy and regulation to meet demand. New approaches are allowing more density, in more places. Not only are these approaches delivering more units, they are breaking down socio-economic barriers. Minneapolis is taking the lead.

Minneapolis will become the first major U.S. city to end single-family home zoning, a policy that has done as much as any to entrench segregation, high housing costs, and sprawl as the American urban paradigm over the past century.

On Friday, the City Council passed Minneapolis 2040, a comprehensive plan to permit three-family homes in the city’s residential neighborhoods, abolish parking minimums for all new construction, and allow high-density buildings along transit corridors.

“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,” Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey told me this week. Single-family home zoning was devised as a legal way to keep black Americans and other minorities from moving into certain neighborhoods, and it still functions as an effective barrier today. Abolishing restrictive zoning, the mayor said, was part of a general consensus that the city ought to begin to mend the damage wrought in pursuit of segregation. Human diversity—which nearly everyone in this staunchly liberal city would say is a good thing—only goes as far as the housing stock.

It may be as long as a year before Minneapolis zoning regulations and building codes reflect what’s outlined in the 481-page plan, which was crafted by city planners. Still, its passage makes the 422,000-person city, part of the Twin Cities region, one of the rare U.S. metropolises to publicly confront the racist roots of single-family zoning—and try to address the issue.

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