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15.6 Urban Density: Missing Middle / Goldilocks Density

Author: Erika Cunanan

ABSTRACT: The missing middle is an arrangement of diverse homes selections that provide solutions to a dense population and unaffordable housing.

Image – Source: Opticos Design Inc. 2020


Between the common detached house and a mid-to-high rise apartment building, there is a selection of different scaled homes. These are called missing middle housing which range from duplexes, triplexes, townhomes, multiplex, bungalow courts, and many more. By stacking or arranging smaller units into one, missing middle homes create a higher density and become more efficient to house families and individuals living in a densely populated city.

Daniel Parolek an architect, urban planner, and author, actually created the term ‘missing middle’ to indicate, “A range of multi-unit or clustered housing types compatible in scale with single-family homes that help meet the growing demand for walkable urban living.” (Parolek). In the last 60 to 70 years, many cities have been developing either single detached homes or apartment buildings, what was “missing” was the homes that ranged in between that spectrum. Goldilocks density is another term for missing middle housing coined by Lloyd Alter, architect, environmentalist and editor at Treehugger. He states that, “Dense enough to build a sense of community, but not so dense as to have everyone slip into anonymity.” Goldilocks density provides and sets an “ideal” standard for a density that is neither too high nor too low for an urban space. It is said to be efficient and an appropriate scale for housing or building developments. With Goldilocks density or Missing Middle housing, construction is less expensive, and buildings are more efficient with every part of interior being used for living or work while being at a proper storey level that adapts easily to the urban surroundings. Goldilocks density plays a crucial role with missing middle in finding a suitable scale-sized housing in a wide dense region like Toronto. What many people living in a city desire is a comfortable, affordable, and walkable community type of home. The cissing middle plays a key point in introducing and solving the housing crisis in dense urban areas like Toronto, Canada. The missing middle housing helps solve one of the many challenges that low-to-middle income households face in the city which is the unavailable and unaffordable housing market.

Graph – Structural Types by Dwellings Size and Tenure in Toronto, Source: Statistics Canada, 2016 Census of Canada, provided by Evergreen Canada.

The graph above describes how Toronto’s housing stock is primarily consisting of single-detached homes and apartments over five storeys or more with the majority of single homes occupying 4+ bedrooms and mortgage ownership. This brings in the question regarding how low-to-middle income families will find housing in a city like Toronto. In 2016, 35% of condominiums and apartments were being rented out. With families wanting to start a mortgage and a family, renting is not as reliable or stable. Missing middle homes help those low-middle income households find ownership in an affordable home that is an appropriate scale in size and distance to the city. Missing middle housing can be seen and located in areas just outside the heart of the city. Majority of missing middle homes in Toronto come from Old Toronto, North York, Waterfront, and Etobicoke.

Another aspect to look at is the residential zoning that actually prevents missing middle housing to be built. 81% of Vancouver’s residential land is solely for single family homes and now duplexes. This prevents missing middle or multi-unit family homes from being built. Residential zoning for single family homes known as R1 actually reduces density by creating larger lots to separate and space each detached home in their neighbourhood. More spacing in these R1 type neighbourhoods would cause an increase  in gas emissions as more people would have to travel and drive to and from their desired  destination. By decreasing R1 zoning laws, it can create a demand for Missing Middle Housing leading more low to middle class families to find an affordable home to rent or own.

Missing Middle Housing also provides a walkable community. Most Missing Middle homes are located in a walkable distance to a near centre, main street or shops that will increase the demand for public transit and local business. That will eventually decrease the carbon emissions they use for gas from a vehicle as the use for cars will not be necessary. With Missing Middle housing, there will be a sufficient reduction in the carbon emissions and footprint by housing more people in a missing middle housing type that is the same equivalent scale as a single-family house. With walls and units being shared, decrease in parking units and yard lots, and in some cases, a fire escape stairwell alongside a mid-rise building, has led to an efficient and sustainable housing system.


Alter, Lloyd. “Cities Need Goldilocks Housing Density – Not Too High or Low, but Just Right.” 16 Apr. 2014. Web. 09 Mar. 2021.

Alter, Lloyd. “The Missing Middle Is Another Model for Providing Dense Family Housing.” 13 Feb. 2021. Web. 09 Mar. 2021.

Evenson, Jeff, Ariana Cancelli, and Keir Matthews-Hunter. What Is The Missing Middle? Rep. Toronto: Evergreen Canada. 1-28. Print.

Lewyn, Michael. “Is There a Perfect Density?” Web. 09 Mar. 2021.

Parolek, Daniel. “Diverse Choices for Walkable Neighborhood Living.” Missing Middle Housing. 04 Mar. 2021. Web. 09 Mar. 2021.

“A Visual Guide to Detached House Zones in 5 Canadian Cities.” DataLabTO. Web. 18 Mar. 2021.


Erika Cunanan is a first-year Creative Industries student studying at Ryerson University. Erika is aiming to expand her knowledge in sustainable and interior design while maintaining a degree that fulfills her passion for art and business.

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