Town House Standards

Zoning Practice — February 2010

By Mary Fishman, Tom Smith


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Town houses have historically played an important role in cities and are an attractive option for suburbs. Originally conceived as in-town housing for the rich, whose mansions were in the countryside, the town house form proved readily adaptable to the more modest means of the working class in older cities such as Philadelphia, New York, Boston, and Chicago. Today, many cities and suburbs have town house developments built at densities that promote pedestrian-oriented neighborhoods and support the use of mass transit.

Limited in height by the number of flights of stairs a person can comfortably climb, town houses have a human scale. Most are only two or three stories. Many town houses have small front yards that provide welcome flowers and shrubs in a dense urban neighborhood. They may have front stoops and bay windows that work with short setbacks to put residents in neighborly proximity to passersby on the sidewalks.

This issue of Zoning Practice takes a look at some of the regulatory and design problems that prompted Chicago to add special zoning provisions to address town house development and concludes with a short analysis of how well these provisions have stood the test of time.


Page Count
Date Published
Feb. 1, 2010
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American Planning Association

About the Authors

Mary Fishman

Tom Smith