Podcast: People Behind the Plans

Dan Parolek

The idea of increasing density in a neighborhood is frequently an off-putting concept for residents, but Dan Parolek has a solution: the "missing middle." He coined the term in 2010 to identify a range of housing types that provide more dwelling units than a single-family home but fewer than a midrise apartment building. These missing middle housing types — duplexes, fourplexes, cottage courts, and more — increase density while still keeping with the scale and character of a neighborhood. His firm, Opticos Design, helps communities implement form-based coding to allow for these structures.

Dan shares the firm's ideas and work with host Courtney Kashima, AICP, including a project in South Bend, Indiana, that tackles the issue of one neighborhood's 500 vacant lots and how to build on them. He stresses the need for a foundation of physical design within planning — without turning planners into designers. Courtney and Dan also explore his career path: He started as an architect but quickly realized he wanted to earn a graduate degree in urban design. After being told by several firms that he needed to choose one discipline or the other, he founded Opticos — a creative maneuver that allowed him the freedom to work on his dual passions.

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