Berkeley California made news within the last week or so and announcing that it is planning to phase out zoning districts which allow only single-family residences. It appears as though they would simply amend the zoning regulations to allow other types of housing in those districts, but the possibility of eliminating single-family residential zoning can seem pretty fantastical. See a local news item here.
Several other jurisdictions across the country have also analysis similar efforts. Minneapolis culminated a multiyear effort to accomplish the same objective in the last year or two. Take a look here. Other cities are considering similar efforts.
It is interesting to consider these efforts in the context of Nashville and other Tennessee cities. While I certainly don't expect that Nashville or for that matter, any of the other large cities here in Tennessee would consider eliminating single-family residential zoning, viewed in a historical context, there is an interesting twist. When I started practicing law in Nashville in 1979, and I clerked while I was in law school for the Metro legal department in 1978, there was no single-family zoning in the city. The least intensive zoning districts for residential (as opposed to agricultural) purposes, R40, allow both single-family and two-family dwellings on lots which had to be 40,000 square feet or larger. In fact, all of the zoning, R20, R15, R10 and so forth, allowed duplexes.
I asked one of the planners who worked at the Metro Planning Commission at the time, Bob Pasley, why it was that these zoning districts which in other cities would have been single-family only, also allowed duplex residences. Bob wasn't quite sure, but indicated that it was a historical anomaly that had simply carried through from the 1920s when zoning first started in Nashville.
Beginning in the early 80s, of movement towards what is now known as RS40 (and so on) began, so that duplexes could no longer be constructed in single-family residential areas. So, in an interesting way, the original zoning districts in Nashville did not permit single-family zoning but also allowed duplex residences; it wasn't until some 60 years after zoning began here, that the push for single-family only zoning districts began. Now the conversion is virtually complete. Most of the areas in town where you would envision single-family zoning have been changed to that type of designation.
It's generally agreed by most planners that single-family zoning contributes to urban sprawl, and of course, in the Berkeley instance, questions concerning racial inequality have added to the push to eliminate such zoning. Nevertheless, it will probably be a long time before we see it here in Tennessee in any of the large cities. But it is interesting that zoning here in Nashville started off by allowing duplex residences in all or virtually all residential zoning districts.