Skip to Content
Streetsblog USA home
Streetsblog USA home
Log In

Zoning Boards Shouldn’t Make Decisions By Judging People’s Lifestyles

A development of studio apartments planned for Berkeley, California, is setting off all the usual NIMBY complaints about height and proximity -- as well as a barrage of snap judgments.


Zoning Commissioner Sophie Hahn encapsulated the condescending response to the apartments, which will be between 300 to 350 square-feet, when she compared them to "penitentiary housing.”

David Edmondson at Vibrant Bay Area makes the point that not only is that an insulting position to take, it's well outside the scope of the zoning committee to be imposing their personal preferences onto other people's housing choices:

When I choose where I want to live, I look at a number of factors: price, transit options, proximity to my friends, job, and favorite neighborhood. As a single person who spends most of his time out at work or at some other hangout, I’m not so concerned about my home’s size. I need a bed, a desk, and a place to make and store food. A studio apartment in the right location will do me fine.

I am representative of one particular niche of potential renters. Other renters will be more concerned about proximity to transit, others about price, and others will want the space to entertain. As we grow our cities, developers should have the flexibility to build units and buildings that cater to the various niches of the rental market. Not everyone wants to live on a Mill Valley hillside, and not everyone wants to live in a high-rise off the Embarcadero.

We have our reasons for choosing the places we do, but it’s the height of arrogance to assume that our preferences apply universally. So when citizens say that studio apartments are “a new style of tenement housing,” I get upset. And when a policymaker (Sophie Hahn) says of studio apartments, “It’s a bleak, lonely, unhealthy life that I would have a lot of trouble endorsing,” that offends me, because she thinks that about my life.

This should go without saying, as well, but many parts of the country have very serious housing affordability problems. Limiting the supply of housing based on patronizing assumptions about what's good for tenants doesn't help.

Elsewhere on the Network today: The Metropolitan Planning Council's Connector blog talks about how the new Divvy bike-share system is changing bicycling in Chicago. The Tri-State Transportation Campaign says Stamford, Connecticut, needs better streets for walking and biking as it grows. Urban Cincy takes a look at whether it's more environmentally friendly to shop in stores on online. And Human Transit gives an overview of the geometry of successful transit systems.

Stay in touch

Sign up for our free newsletter

More from Streetsblog USA

Friday’s Headlines Go Back to the Future

If you liked the first Trump administration's transportation policies, you're going to love the second Trump administration's transportation policies.

July 19, 2024

Advocates Share What It Takes to Fight Highway Expansions in Court 

What does it take to sue your state DOT? Time, money, the right partners, and a little creativity, a recent survey of activists found.

July 19, 2024

Friday Video: Paris Does it Again

Come for the bike-friendly streets, but stay for adopt-a-tree program and all the car-free school roadways.

July 19, 2024

Talking Headways Podcast: IrrePLACEable

Kevin Kelley on his book Irreplaceable: How to Create Extraordinary Places that Bring People Together, and the future of downtowns.

July 18, 2024

This Heat Wave is a Car Dependency Problem

Our quickly warming planet has a unique impact on people who don't or can't drive — and we need policy action to protect their health.

July 18, 2024
See all posts