For a Better Brisbane

Decoding Density: Can you guess the housing density?

Video: This was part of a presentation by Dan Zack, Downtown Development Coordinator of Redwood City to members of Alliance for a Livable Palo Alto.

Residential density must be the single most plagued and problematic statistic in urban and transit affairs. Low density is a common explanation for  why one particular mode of transport is “better” than another for a particular city, or why motorways to everywhere rather than public transport is the solution to our transportation woes. Like many things there may be truth to these statements- after all it only seems intuitive that if you have a very large empty paddock, no amount of high frequency public transport services to it is going to make such a service full with passengers.

But intuition only goes so far.

So often statements such as “City X is too low density for  public transport mode X or plan X” are often accompanied by no supporting reference whatsoever, let alone details of the method used to calculate it so that someone else may verify it or even a number. To this blog it sometimes seems that “the vibe” about what the density is perceived to be, rather than what the density actually is, is being used to advance such arguments.  And too often these arguments are used against public transport. In particular light rail, heavy rail and metro rail seem to be particularly prone to this line of argument.

The density dilemma isn’t limited to public transport either. If you live in the city, you may have heard about the need for higher density living in the inner suburbs. This blog is generally supportive of increased densities. However, density and building height are two different things.

Why is density so problematic? Perhaps people’s perceptions and expectations of what density looks like are the reasons behind many broad and sweeping statements about density.

How good are you at using “the vibe” to get an idea of the density of a particular development or suburb? Click the video above!

The moral of the story is clear. Density may well be used to advance a particular point, but there had better be some kind of number and reference to back it up. City densities are also rarely uniform within a city too. The BrisUrbane blog links to two sources of information about city-wide densities in the information interchange. And public transport projects should really be looked at in a proper study, rather than relying on “the vibe“.

For those interested, Dr Paul Mees book Transport for suburbia details further problems and complications with the vexed issue of density. A link to “A liveable Palo Alto ” is here


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December 7, 2010 at 11:14 pm

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