Tuesday, April 26, 2011

More On Density

To follow up on the table I posted last week, I want to add a couple quick points in explanation of what my intent was in putting it together. 

The thought I had in mind was basically this one, drawn from an urban planning textbook:
“Depending on scale, the same density may look and feel quite different.  Perceptions on inappropriate density can trigger strong reactions from the public, with concerns about increased traffic congestion and concentrated poverty.  Good design employs scale as a way to make denser development feel humane and look appealing while capturing the benefits it brings to the human realm.”

If a slightly lower density could be delivered in a form that is far more acceptable as a housing option to the majority of people, still at an urban level of compactness, and cheaper to construct to boot, wouldn’t building in that form be a sensible choice even if the resulting city occupied somewhat more total land area?   The table shows that the low-rise forms are, in fact, not all that much less dense than taller ones, particularly in comparison to suburban forms, and even require less total street surface.

From this point of view, there could perhaps be a modest reconciliation among the anti-density NIMBYs and the pro-density urbanists, with resort to a time-tested form that was, in fact, the primary way cities were built from the time of Jericho and Ur all the way to the industrial revolution. 

The runaway popularity of the few partly-traditional American towns and neighborhoods is evidence that this is an approach that could succeed.  Unfortunately, it has never really been given a chance, not even by the New Urbanists, who, as I’ll get to in the next few days, have coded away any chance to build in a traditional form.

1 comment:

  1. I think it was difficult to see that since the graph shows heights and street widths moving together.

    Perhaps a more clear table would be just keeping building heights constant (3-5 stories) and identifying an average density per acre for that height. Then show the increase or decrease in the density within a set area (maybe 100 acres) when the street widths fluctuate.