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Anatomy of Density

An Approach for City Leaders to Consider Affordable Densification

+ Shlomo (Solly) Angel, Patrick Lamson-Hall

Abstract

Serious concerns about global warming have been translated into urgent calls for increasing urban densities, as higher densities are associated with lower carbon emissions from both vehicles and buildings. However, attempts at effective densification have generally failed and urban densities continue to decline in cities across the world. Calls for densification without making room for it have resulted in serious housing supply bottlenecks in many cities and have rendered their housing unaffordable. If affordable densification is to be successful, it is necessary to understand the factors that constitute urban density. A novel way is presented for factoring the average density of cities into constituent factors—three or seven factors—that when multiplied together reconstitute urban density. This factoring methodology is presented together with the preliminary measurement of these factors in 10 cities in 10 world regions. This approach allows, for the first time, a clear understanding of how different cities acquire their density: Hong Kong gets its density from building height; Kinshasa from crowding; and Dhaka and Bogotá from residential coverage. This anatomy of density offers a new outline for a comprehensive strategy for city densification: one that addresses each and every one of the factors that constitute urban density.

Shlomo (Solly) Angel is a Professor of City Planning at the Marron Institute where he leads the NYU Urban Expansion Program.

Patrick Lamson-Hall is a Research Scholar in the NYU Urban Expansion program.

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