The Next Big Thing in Urban Planning? Backyard Cottages

As the days of suburban sprawl give way to those of urban density in U.S. metros—”smart growth,” most call it—providing sufficient housing remains a challenge. Decades of planning regulations and highway patterns support single-family homes built far outside a city center. Even in areas where big residential towers make sense, developing them takes a long time and costs a lot of money.

Planning scholar Jake Wegmann believes there’s another way: backyard cottages. Individual micro-units on single-family properties don’t require much time or money to build. They don’t need much space to sit on. They’re affordable almost by definition and are well-suited to the modern family—from the recent college grad living at home to the grandparent who wants to age in place.

Their potential seems even greater in places trying to reduce their reliance on cars and promote access to shops by walking or public transit. At the very least, Wegmann believes, cottages should be part of the broader conversation about the changing shape of American cities.

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