Density. It can be a scary word that conjures up images of big, dark cities replete with congestion, poverty, and crime. For many, density is antithetical to a high quality of life. This misperception can paralyze a community to not build anything at the risk of building “too dense.” What is density? Density manifests itself as different building forms. With housing, this can span from ranchettes to single-family houses to row homes to mid-rise apartments to mixed-use, multi-family buildings. The question is: what is the right building type and where?
As planners, we believe in enhancing the character of places—rural areas should feel rural, suburbs should feel suburban, and downtowns should feel urban. Increasingly, rural areas look suburban, suburbs are congested, and downtowns are a patchwork of surface parking lots and obsolete buildings. Density can help balance this equation.
Increasing the residential density in downtowns relieves development pressure on suburban and rural areas, making all three areas more livable. Affordable apartments provide homes close to jobs; high-end condominiums provide access to downtown amenities. New mixed-use, multi-family buildings can fill the “holes” in a downtown, and strengthen its visual character. Housing close to transit removes one car per rider. Housing above retail doubles the number of stakeholders in a place. The truth is: the right density in the right places can improve equity, accessibility, and livability. Don't be afraid!