Density Only Works In The Right Places

I’m all in favor of abundant housing in California’s major metropolitan areas.  We need it to meet demand and reduce economic inequality.  But to solve our congestion problems and bolster our transit networks, we need that housing to be built in the right places.

Along these lines, Robert Cervero, Friesen Chair of Urban Studies and professor of City and Regional Planning at UC Berkeley, has a fascinating (but long) presentation on-line that describes the recipe for successful, functional cities:

The bottom line is that density by itself doesn’t work unless it is well-planned and co-located with high quality transit. Good examples of bad density? Sao Paulo and Los Angeles, where the density is spread across the landscape and average per capita travel times are long. Examples of good density? Curitiba, Brazil, where density is located in “transit-sheds” along boulevards with bus rapid transit and per capita travel times are relatively short.

For Los Angeles in particular, the path forward will be essentially to retrofit the city by building a new, more functional one on top of the old. That means abundant housing along the new rail network and major bus routes, but probably not anywhere else at this point.

As an interesting concluding note, Cervero describes how most urban growth in the world will occur in the “Global South,” making these lessons critical for new cities as they are designed and built.


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