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European-style height, but not density

As I wrote about last month in this pithy post, the relationship between building height and density are often misunderstood. They mean different things and so the implications for our cities can also be vastly different.

I woke up this morning to a couple of tweets by John Michael McGrath that I think hit the nail on the end with respect to this duality. If you can’t see them below, click here.

Paris is known, and largely celebrated, for its “European-scaled” mid-rise buildings. But as John points out, these buildings often line narrow streets (see above). They are typically also built across large blocks with compact internal courtyards and with few setbacks and/or stepbacks. The combined result is that Paris is one of the densest cities in Europe. It has mid-rise at scale.

The North American context is quite different. The large majority of our land is usually reserved for low density housing. (Here in Toronto this land has been nicknamed the “Yellowbelt.”) We have a policy context that only allows intensification in select places, and that can create pressures to build up. It’s a bit like squeezing a closed tube of toothpaste.

In 2012, Eurostat ranked Paris as the densest city in Europe with an average population density of approximately 21,516 people per square kilometer. Whereas, according to Wikipedia, the population density of metro Toronto was around 5,905 people per square kilometer in 2016.

What is it, again, that we love so much about Paris?

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