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Thread: "High density is bad" - help me debunk this design myth

  1. #1

    "High density is bad" - help me debunk this design myth

    Help me create arguments to debunk this myth about architectural and urban design:

    High Density is Bad.

    Counter arguments are welcome as well. I need to know what the enemy is going to say

  2. #2
    Cyburbian btrage's avatar
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    Although I don't agree with this paper...check out this link. It was produced by the Michigan Townships Association.

    http://www.michigantownships.org/dow.../density_1.pdf

    Basically, it is arguing against the medium to high-density types of new urbanist developments that many townships now see. Saying that they are not "cost effective".
    "I'm very important. I have many leather-bound books and my apartment smells of rich mahogany"

  3. #3
    Cyburbian
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    first, stop with the "enemy" stuff. its counterproductive. can we assume you want to talk about residential density.?

  4. #4
    Different situations require different densities. People will make trade-offs between density and other benefits. For example someone may have a strong preference for single-family homes, but also have a strong preference for Midtown Manhattan. Obviously it is going to be astronomically expensive to fulfill both preferences, and a choice must be made.

  5. #5
    Cyburbian Wannaplan?'s avatar
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    High density for the sake of high density isn't neccessarily good.

    And low density for the sake of low density isn't neccessarily good, either.

    But if there is a land shortage, or there is something special about a place that inspires people to want to live there, then higher densities do make sense.

    Off-topic:
    By the way, that MTA article, at their January annual conference, they had Wendell Cox as the keynote speaker. That should tell you something, btrage.

  6. #6
    Member CosmicMojo's avatar
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    Reasons high density can be good:
    Efficient use of utilities; takes fewer feet of pipe to serve the same # of people,
    Makes public transportation feasible,
    Leaves more land available for open space, naturalized areas, water recharge,
    Limits the geographic range of the impact of development.
    Encourages walking instead of car use for shorts trips.
    Last edited by CosmicMojo; 03 Mar 2006 at 4:27 PM.

  7. #7
    Quote Originally posted by gkmo62u
    first, stop with the "enemy" stuff. its counterproductive. can we assume you want to talk about residential density.?

    First off lighten up I was joking

    Second no I am not specifically talking about type of use.

    What I am looling at is not weather to choose high or low density. What I am saying is that there is a myth that I do not believe in that says high density is bad.

  8. #8
    Quote Originally posted by steel
    What I am looling at is not weather to choose high or low density. What I am saying is that there is a myth that I do not believe in that says high density is bad.
    That's a more complicated question though. How do you decide if anything is good or bad? That depends on what people want, and what can be realistically offered to them.

  9. #9
    Cyburbian iamme's avatar
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    Also, what is 'high density'?

    There are a few buildings going up near me that are greater than 100 units/acre but I don't think its high for the area. I know you're not talking exclusively about residential but the word high is relative.

  10. #10
    Cyburbian Wannaplan?'s avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by steel
    What I am looling at is not weather to choose high or low density. What I am saying is that there is a myth that I do not believe in that says high density is bad.
    Here's what you may be looking for: "Higher densities are better than lower densities because it uses less land which helps to preserve the local agricultural economy."

  11. #11
    Unfrozen Caveman Planner mendelman's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by iamme
    Also, what is 'high density'?
    Exactly, the concept density is too vague without having specific context(s), and that is really the problem that some folks have. They don't really know what they are talking about.

    Ok, examples. If you have an existing single family detached residential density pattern of 4 units per acre, and someone wants to use the last 50 acre vacant parcel to do more single family detached at 12 units per acre, that would be 3 times as dense as the existing and if access to/from the area is primarily by car, people would precieve this as 'bad' density becuase of the tripled potential for traffic congestion, but the public works department may say that it is Ok because of the more efficient use of utility service and the finance director may say it's good because there are potentially 3 times the taxes, but the school district may balk because they cannot handle the increased student load, but the local business owners may rejoice because there are 600 new households added to the consumer base.

    So, I hope that helps a bit. Its a difficult question to address without more details/specifics.
    I'm sorry. Is my bias showing?

    The ends can justify the means.

  12. #12
    Quote Originally posted by Wanigas?
    Here's what you may be looking for: "Higher densities are better than lower densities because it uses less land which helps to preserve the local agricultural economy."
    So how high should the density go? If we lived in mile-high skyscrapers it would preserve a lot of land, but is the land really worth that much?

  13. #13
    Men is getting closer to what I am looking for.

    For instanc the argument is often used that high density creates traffic. Whil it uis true that high density development allows for more people it also allows for less use of cars resulting in less traffic. While low density development actually requires cars in order to function therby incresing traffic. Proof of this is NYC V Chicago. NYC is about 2 times the size of Chicago and is far far more dense. the result is that the highwasy in NYC are much smaller and less extensive. Many people in NYC do not even have drivers licenses.

    Here are some more specifics.

    There is a proposal to build a 5 story 80 hotel in Buffalo NY on Elmwood Ave. This business strip is composed of 3 story houses some with 2 story business fronts pushed out to the street. There is occasionally other buildings up to 10 floors on the street. The building would have underground parking and would be set back from the houses that it adjoins on its back side. The nieghborhood is densely built with large detatched houses, apartment buildings and schools. There is a nearbyu university and art museum.

    Many have complained that the building is too dense for the sit and will casue traffic problems, crime, and other perceived density related problems.

  14. #14
    I'd suggest that you check out The Death and Life of Great American Cities by Jane Jacobs. She argues that the myth arises from confusion between high density and overcrowding, and draws a distinction between the two. She also addresses density as a necessary condition for diversity in cities.

  15. #15
    Member CosmicMojo's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by steel
    There is a proposal to build a 5 story 80 hotel in Buffalo NY on Elmwood Ave. This business strip is composed of 3 story houses some with 2 story business fronts pushed out to the street. There is occasionally other buildings up to 10 floors on the street. The building would have underground parking and would be set back from the houses that it adjoins on its back side. The nieghborhood is densely built with large detatched houses, apartment buildings and schools. There is a nearbyu university and art museum.

    Many have complained that the building is too dense for the sit and will casue traffic problems, crime, and other perceived density related problems.
    Density isn't the problem with that proposal. The problem is that the proposed use and structure are incompatible with the existing uses and buildings. The building is out of scale with the existing 3-story homes and the use is incompatible with residential.

  16. #16
    Quote Originally posted by CosmicMojo
    Density isn't the problem with that proposal. The problem is that the proposed use and structure are incompatible with the existing uses and buildings. The building is out of scale with the existing 3-story homes and the use is incompatible with residential.

    What makes something "out of scale"? There are countless successful urban environments that mix buildings of many sizes. There is nothing negative in and of its self of having a big structure next to a small structure.

  17. #17
    Super Moderator luckless pedestrian's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by jaws
    So how high should the density go? If we lived in mile-high skyscrapers it would preserve a lot of land, but is the land really worth that much?
    I think this is a myth personally because what do I tell the private property owner outside of town, he can't build anything because I'm letting a skyscaper in the village?

    To me, this argument only works if the Town is buying outlying areas for conservation purposes -

    On the other comments - I have seen some "infill gone bad" stuff here - density for density sake isn't always the best when the units come off a truck in the middle of a neighborhood homes from the turn of the last century - hence why I put in a proposal for FAR on infill - the boxy stuff is just so bad, a little modern architecture would be cool, but a box of unit you order out of a catalogue just doesn't work - compatibility is real

    out of scale is a problem - one of the points of genesis for zoning was the provision of adequate air and light - a thick chunk of building dropped in a middle of a neighborhood isn't always good for that neighborhood

    the FAR approach I am taking is a relative density - your FAR is the average of everyone within 300' of you - that way, when FAR creep happens, it's a creep, not a bomb - neighborhoods do change but they need to change in a more evolutionary way, more ground up

  18. #18

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    Density transit

    I think the problem with low density is the distance between 2 points. The problem these days is not whether you want an acre for a front yard (the most useless waist of land) but the fact that to do so is forcing us farther from community centers, thus traveling farther and farther for basic human needs, clogging our arteries and wasting our resources. Land, in this country, is not a limited resource yet. The damage comes from how far and how long it is to your nearest Walmart or suburban office complex. Neither being accessible to any feasible transit system. It fuels sprawl and mass consumption. The car is the only alternative. There is no variation. Ther are no options.

    It's effects go way beyond if you want a mile long front drive or not. Your choice does impact all of us.

    I'm not speaking of true country living. People that do not commute to the office or go to Walmart 3 times a week for supplies. I'm referring to those who want the best of both worlds. Those who insist on the benefits of country living but refuse to give up the conveniences of populated areas. In my mind, the desire for a secluded house with acres of land with a short drive to the Mall is just greed.

  19. #19
    Cyburbian Luca's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by UrbaniDesDev
    the desire for a secluded house with acres of land ...
    Interesting point, often made in this forum. What do you gents/ladies think is the prime cause for the propensity of so many people (especially in the English-speaking world but not limited to it) to strongly desire and pay for (in many ways), their own private, little Ďestateí. I donít mean to scorn, Iím genuinely curious. Iíve enver seen the point of thousands of relatively tiny (especially in London!Ē) private gardens when you could bash them together and have a jolly nice mini-park (like he Garden squares). Whenever I mention that, English people look at me like Iíve proposed intercourse with their daughter.

    Is it primarily the association of fully detached houses on spacious grounds with the aristocracy?

    Is it primarily misanthropy / overdeveloped sense of privacy / fear of others?

    Is it an atavistic horror of the overcrowded / unhealthy slum?

    Is it a true love of nature / outdoors / gardening, inevitably compromised by the impossibility of owning a park?
    Life and death of great pattern languages

  20. #20
    Cyburbian Mud Princess's avatar
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    Higher Density Development: Myth or Fact is available at the Urban Land Institute website. It's a 38-page PDF document.

    http://www.uli.org/AM/Template.cfm?S...entDisplay.cfm

  21. #21

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    I truly believe it is fear of others

  22. #22
    Cyburbian iamme's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by UrbaniDesDev
    I truly believe it is fear of others
    I'm sure many here will sympathize with your view, but it just doesn't cut it to say that. Everyone needs a reason why because those evil people that live in, gasp, apartments, will be moving near them soon.

  23. #23

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    Quote Originally posted by Luca
    Is it primarily the association of fully detached houses on spacious grounds with the aristocracy?

    Is it primarily misanthropy / overdeveloped sense of privacy / fear of others?

    Is it an atavistic horror of the overcrowded / unhealthy slum?

    Is it a true love of nature / outdoors / gardening, inevitably compromised by the impossibility of owning a park?
    I would argue that the ideal of idyllic rural life, which indeed touches on all of these, is the underlying mythos which promotes detached single family housing in the Anglo world. I mean, look at the English countryside-it's a beautiful place visually. Throw on social striving by the Upper Middle Class, the reality that English (and American) industrial era cities were not very pleasant places, the remembered folk history of Enclosure forcing the peasants off the land, (even if you can purport to prove that economically society as a whole benefited). In the United States, throw in racism, the reality that nothing much was built for forty years-meaning many city apartment neighborhoods were tired feeling, and the insidious propaganda of the Automobile Industry and real estate speculators.

  24. #24
    As far as I'm aware there are plenty of people in England and in America who live in apartments and condominiums. To say that the English have a natural aversion to apartments it unfounded. Given the right conditions they will live in apartments.

    It's also useless to point out the French as having an apartment culture. They invented one to deal with urban overcrowding problems. They don't have a natural genetic or social trait that makes them more tolerant of or attracted to apartments.

  25. #25

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    Quote Originally posted by jaws
    As far as I'm aware there are plenty of people in England and in America who live in apartments and condominiums. To say that the English have a natural aversion to apartments it unfounded. Given the right conditions they will live in apartments.

    It's also useless to point out the French as having an apartment culture. They invented one to deal with urban overcrowding problems. They don't have a natural genetic or social trait that makes them more tolerant of or attracted to apartments.

    I disagree. We are speaking generalities here.

    Certainly there are many people in big cities like London who live in apartments. Is that the cultural ideal? Probably not in England. But, I would venture that more live in the vast beltlands of suburbia surrounding London-and more would if it weren't for more rigid planning policies???

    Certainly, there are French suburbanites as well (les pavillions) But, the upper and middle classes have traditionally accepted apartment living more than their island counterparts (partly because of the Good Baron Haussman). Again, look at the etymology-"apartment" is a French word. "House" certainly is not.

    Can the culture change? Certainly. It is changing in some metropolitan areas for connected, educated elites.

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