What Happened When Arlington Cut Out the 'Missing Middle'

In Arlington, restricting density to preserve neighborhood character isn't new. A rowhouse ban in 1938 may be one factor behind today's steep prices and gentrification.1

Arlington banned rowhouses in 1938. ... Rowhouses, they believed, would "mar the suburban landscape." And so, in 1938, the county changed its zoning to prohibit rowhouses. ... Today, Arlington is the Washington area's second most urban jurisdiction, behind the District. According to its place in our metropolitan hierarchy, Arlington should have a lot of rowhouses. But it doesn't, because 79 years ago preserving a community character that was unpreservable anyway was a higher priority than building enough housing during an ongoing boom.

Now, amidst another boom, these problems are exaggerated. More and more people want to live in urban rowhouses, but the supply is limited, and in many cases land use and zoning laws make it difficult to build them. To find affordable rowhouses, middle-class buyers have gone to the urban core's lower-income neighborhoods, increasing demand and prices.