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High-Density Housing Can Be a Good Thing

Posted by: Peter Coy on March 12, 2007

I want to tell you about a new book, but first take this quiz:


A. The development of tall buildings on the left has denser housing.
B. The development of short buildings on the right has denser housing.
C. The density of the two is the same.

The quiz is on the website of the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy in Cambridge, Mass., which is dedicated to making more efficient use of land. It’s promoting a new book, Visualizing Density, by Julie Campoli (landscape architect and land planner) and Alex S. MacLean (pilot, aerial photographer, and architect).

Here’s an excerpt from the press release about Visualizing Density:

For many Americans density is associated with ugliness, crowding, and congestion, even though it can be shown that, when properly planned and designed, higher density can save land, energy, and dollars. Moreover, many people have difficulty estimating density from visual cues or distinguishing quantitative (measured) and qualitative (perceived) density. We tend to overestimate the density of monotonous, amenity-poor developments and underestimate the density of well-designed, attractive projects, thereby reinforcing the negative stereotypes.

OK. Now are you ready to guess?

Answer: C

Here's what the Lincoln Institute says:

These neighborhoods look quite different but share the same density level. There are many ways to reach a density of 35 units / acre. These examples show two distinctly different approaches. Street layout, architecture, landscaping, and other design factors have a far greater affect on physical character than density level.

Reader Comments

Kathleen Ferrier

December 5, 2007 5:57 PM

I am working on a project currently where this kind of example is extremely helpful. I'm a planner and can think of many ways to build dense apartments/ residences. However, I'm working with folks who, for some reason, want to insist on the skyscraper towers to implement density. I personally prefer the village feel and think that it motivates more camaraderie among residents. Of course, every building designed must take into consideration the context, but the point is that the village can achieve the same goals as the towers in many scenarios where people (non-planners) think differently.

Keith Henderson

March 31, 2008 9:00 PM

Does anyone have any experience or bodies of evidence to support minimum densities necessary to support affordable housing? Any information on density thresholds that dictate changes in product type? Anything on the use of presumptive minimum densities vs. density bonuses to support affordable housing?


November 3, 2008 7:31 PM

What are the statistics for people who currently live in high density housing in Australia?

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BusinessWeek editors Chris Palmeri, Prashant Gopal and Peter Coy chronicle the highs and lows of the housing and mortgage markets on their Hot Property blog. In print and online, the Hot Property team first wrote about the potential downside of lenders pushing riskier, "option ARM" mortgages and the rise in mortgage fraud back in 2005—well ahead of many other media outlets. In 2008, Hot Property bloggers finished #1 in a ranking of the world's top 100 "most powerful property people" by the British real estate website Global edge. Hot Property was named among the 25 most influential real estate blogs of 2007 by Inman News.

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