Second Street Housing: Living next to, but not on top of main street

Alfred Twu
3 min readJul 4, 2023
Example of Second Street housing, with new housing behind the main street.

In many North American cities, as more housing is built, it’s limited to a few places: downtown and along busy streets. This is known as Corridor Zoning. Extreme examples such as Wilshire Boulevard’s “Condo Canyon” in Los Angeles or Yonge Street in Toronto have skyscrapers next to houses.

Corridor Zoning: the commercial streets allow high density mixed use, while everything else remains limited to detached houses. Traffic is funneled onto the main commercial streets, with side streets divided into dead ends.

Corridor Zoning grew out of a political compromise. By allowing very high density in commercial zones, cities could build lots of housing while exclusive neighborhoods remained untouched. But it has downsides:

  • Lots of people end up living on the noisiest, most polluted streets.
  • Local businesses, historic buildings, and existing low-rent apartment buildings are at risk of demolition.
  • Storefronts on the main street are replaced by garages, exit doors, private lobbies, utility rooms and other uninviting spaces.
  • Limited number of sites causes land to be expensive.
  • Narrow canyon of tall buildings creates a wind tunnel, makes being outside on the main street unpleasant.

While some people enjoy the excitement of living on top of their favorite bar, most would prefer to live close but not that close. Corridor zoning may have been a necessary compromise to build the first few apartments in the suburbs, the next stage of development needs to look beyond the main roads.

Second Street Housing — so named since the street next to Main Street in many cities is 2nd Street — puts the biggest new apartment buildings behind, not on top of, the main commercial strip, separated by an alley for deliveries. Further back, still within a five-minute walk, are mid-rise apartments, and beyond that, a mix of houses, duplexes, fourplexes and courtyard apartments.

Second Street Housing: historic main street with high density housing behind it, followed by mid-rise apartments and “missing middle” duplexes / townhouses in outer blocks. Side streets and alleys help spread out traffic.

In most places, Second Street housing can be implemented by rezoning the land closest to commercial zones. In some places, this area is mostly parking lots. Malls and shopping centers are also easily adapted, with the new housing going in the parking lot.

The backside of downtown Salinas. The buildings on the left have their main entrance on Main Street which is off to the left. Parking lots like the ones on the right would be great places for housing. In the case of Salinas, this lot is already zoned for mixed use residential-commercial, and new homes could be built in the future.

This article and images are CC-BY Alfred Twu, alfredtwu @