Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Urban Density and Quality of Life in DC

The argument is often made that increased urban density produces a less hospitable city. New York City is cited as the example: Skyscrapers and mega-apartment buildings make for a city that's dynamic and vibrant, but not beautiful. Washington, DC and Paris are beautiful cities; New York and Chicago aren't.
Graph created by the Center for American Progress

Except. Except that Paris, perhaps the most beautiful city in the world, has a population density that's about 5 times that of Washington, DC. Washington, DC's population density is closer to that of Fargo, North Dakota, according to Matthew Yglesias' Think Progress blog. New York City's population density is less than Paris', by the way: 26,000 people per square mile for the Big Apple.

Urban density, by itself, doesn't create a "crowded," "hectic," or "impersonal" feeling for a city. Density doesn't automatically mean ugly or large buildings. But increased urban density can improve quality of life in a city: More people can bring about a more potent economy, with more shops, restaurants, recreational facilities, and better schools. Worth remembering when the next zoning battle occurs in the District of Columbia.

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