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Paris and Vancouver population densities compared

In this January 2018 report from the Fraser Institute, they pegged the average population density of Paris to be about 21,067 inhabitants per square kilometer (2014 population year). It is the second densest city in their report after Hong Kong, but the densest in Europe. By comparison, Vancouver sits at around 5,493 inhabitants per square kilometer (2016 population year).

Now, these are of course city averages. Some neighborhoods will be higher and some will be lower. According to a January 2018 study by Alasdair Rae — who is a works in the Department of Urban Studies and Planning at the University of Sheffield — these are the most densely populated square kilometers across Europe (or at least within the 39 countries that he looked at).

Paris, once again, comes in near the top with a peak density somewhere around 52,218 inhabitants per 1km square. The square in question is in the neighborhood of Goutte D’Or. And the only square within the study to come in denser is one from the L’Hospitalet de Llobegrat in Greater Barcelona (53,119 inhabitants per square kilometer).

Now let’s take a look at how these sorts of densities actually manifest themselves. Below is an aerial capture from Google Maps showing a section of Goutte D’Or in Paris. The buildings are all pretty much 7 storeys (mid-rise), but the blocks are mostly filled in. Lots of interior courtyard apartments. This is one way to get to over 50,000 people per square kilometer.

Returning to Vancouver as a point of comparison, below is an aerial capture from downtown Vancouver at exactly the same scale as the Paris capture. I couldn’t find a density map of downtown, but it’s probably safe to assume that it’s greater than 5,493 and a lot less than 52,218 residents per square kilometer.

What you see here is typical Vancouverism. Lots of slender point towers, careful tower positioning and spacing, and generally low podiums. It is a perfect demonstration that height and density do not necessarily correlate. It is possible to have low buildings and high density, which is something that Europe obviously does very well.

But here’s the important question: In which of these two examples would you rather live? Please leave a comment below.

19 Comments

  1. ben.w

    Having not lived in either of these it would be tough to truly pick, though I’ve lived in somewhat similar North American areas and European areas. Broadly speaking, replicating either of these models would be a gain for a city, even if not taken to their extreme. Downsides of the Paris neighbourhood include low levels of natural light and cramped quarters, but there is ample public space a short walk away to make up for that (sort of). In Vancouver, they seem to value light in all units and focus on small green spaces nearby, with large parks further afield.

    Two different philosophies, but both making for some of the planet’s most desirable neighbourhoods. Your city would do well to emulate them.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Without a doubt, Paris. Even with the smaller living spaces and annoyingly small stairs the living and feel of the neighbourhood is much increased with community and a sense of calm even among such high density. Of course one will argue the penthouse living resident of Vancouver is much better off, but the average I believe would move towards Paris. I’ve often thought, if only Toronto could get on this, create dense areas of 6 storey mid-rise smiliar to Paris from Bathurst to DVP Bloor to the lake, the city would be more busy of course, but the efficiency would increase and I’m almost certain the cost of living would decrease (rent vs own).

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Jeff Ranson

    Now look at the % of land area in both neighbourhoods dedicated to cars (roads + parking access and loading areas) and you’ll start to see how Paris can achieve such high density, and livability.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Vancouver definitely needs to think more along the lines of European densities. The built form of more uniform 4-8 storey buildings across the city, rather than pointy towers at transit hubs, is more human scale and creates better places at higher densities in support of local businesses.

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  5. Both typologies could be improved but if sense of community is the main criteria, then for me, the Paris model would be preferable. Vancouverism must move on and evolve. Highrise design must address issues of the lack of community and opportunities for personal contact. To achieve the social sustainability that will be necessary for successful city building there needs to be a real shift in the paradigm in highrise design, not just more mindless formalism of just another new dress over the same old frame.

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  6. Owen Brady

    You might like this: https://censusmapper.ca/maps/1493 . Vancouver’s West End as a whole (excluding Stanley Park, of course) has a density around 21,000/km2. So it’s not a fair fight, as the West End has less than half the density of Goutte D’Or (but has to contend with a lot more cars). I think I’d prefer a hybrid of Paris’s car-light infrastructure, courtyards, and retail at grade with Vancouverism’s willingness to go tall, leafy and open to sunlight. Vancouver also rains a lot more and I feel like we could do something about that.

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  7. Douglas Pollard

    I too would drift to the Parisian model for all the various reasons noted above. Seems to me it is that very scale that prompts so many of us to place Paris at the top of our favorite city lists.I have never been in the neighborhood in question so have no idea about noise, lack of privacy and whatever that might arise from the density vs the form.I have been in l’Eixample in Barcelona which also has this form and as far as I know a very high density and it is a treat to be in. In that neighbourhood they are instituting a whole other car regime and turning car space back into public space and green space to make it even more livable.

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  8. Scott Baker

    It’s hard to say, and other factors come into play: cost psf, modernity of the apts. – Vancouver looks more modern and maybe the buildings work better inside.
    The really radical solution is to do away with the informal 1 window per major room.
    I’ve come up with a ultra-dense design – 7,630 units in a 25m sf building, over a major river. Video & details here: http://bit.ly/Riverarch
    The units are larger than average – 1,600 for the average 2BR – specifically so each major room could have at least one window.
    An alternative line of apts., the cheapest in the building, has virtual windows, basically 10′ X 5′ screens showing feeds from the numerous external security cameras all around the building, in med-res full color. This has already been done in Waterside Plaza on CCTV; they have a dedicated channel for it. Of course, if a business could be set up to gather CCTV security feeds from other parts of the world, there’s no reason one could not look out at Tokyo street scene while living in NYC.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Pingback: Eliminating single-family zoning | BRANDON DONNELLY

  10. Karen McBride

    In Paris, I would miss the trees. Nothing against tight quarters if that allows closer proximity to work and services.
    Vancouver (and Toronto) should narrow down some of their main thoroughfares, lessening car/truck traffic. But not before they and surrounding communities build decent public transport.

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