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Visualizing Density Pap/Cdr Edition
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The strength of this particular density catalogue is the extensive high quality aerial imagery. However, there are many limitations to its usefulness. Firstly, we normally perceive neighbourhoods from ground level, not from the air, but no eye level imagery is provided. The second key problem is that scale, a key aspect of any density measure, is not consistently used. While the book refers to neighbourhoods, the provided density measure of units per acres has been often calculated for a single block only, and is not clear whether is net or gross. For homogeneous suburban neighbourhoods this is not a major problem, but for the diverse inner urban areas the density of a single block can widely differ from that of the neighbourhood. Thirdly, it would have been fair to warn the reader of the multiple limitations of the used density measure of units per acre, such as that the presence or absence of non-residential uses is ignored, that the actual size of a unit is ignored, or that family size can largely vary from one neighbourhood to another, and thus the density of people might compare differently than the density of units.Read more ›
These pictures reveal a variety of surprises. For example, when one thinks of houses looking as if they are packed together, one might think of high density- but where big houses are next to each other instead of being separated by trees or grass, they can appear unpleasantly crammed even at one or two units per acre. On the other hand, a tree canopy can make a neighborhood with a dozen houses per acre look fairly spacious.
Another surprise is that high density doesn't necessarily have to mean apartments or high rises- there are small-house and row-house neighborhoods with 20-50 dwelling units per acre, while some high-rise areas are not tremendously dense (due to the presence of plazas and parking lots where buildings could be).
Though much of the text reiterates well-worn arguments for more compact development, some of it addresses a genuinely interesting question: why do neighborhoods of identical densities vary in attractiveness? The book suggests that less attractive neighborhoods tend to (1) have fewer shade trees, (2) have less variety in housing types, and/or (3) are less walkable (because streets are not interconnected enough for people to walk to neighbors' houses, or because commercial areas are not within walking distance).