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The anatomy of density

Urban environments can be dense in many different ways. This is a topic that we have discussed on several occasions here on the blog. But this working paper by Solly Angel, Patrick Lamson-Hall, and Zeltia Gonzales Blanco — called The Anatomy of Density — is a more scientific way of looking at it. They have come up with six measurable factors that, when combined, define urban density.

What this means is that cities achieve urban density through different kinds of built form. Hong Kong, for example, gets its density from height, even though only about 4% of its land area is occupied by residential buildings. Dhaka, on the other hand, does it through low building heights and high residential coverage. Homes occupy about 20% of the city’s area. Another dimension is crowding.

But here’s something that may surprise you. Most cities are actually becoming less densely populated. And, despite our best efforts to encourage more sustainable forms of development, sprawl has continued to outpace densification in the vast majority of the urban agglomerations that were studied as part of this working paper. The wealthier we become, the more space we want to consume.

Here’s a graph from The Economist that speaks to this trend:

To download a copy of the working paper, click here.

Image: The Economist

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