neighborhood explorations: this view of density

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About "This View of Density"

We've ripped off the title "This View of Density" from one of our heroes, the late evolutionist Steven Jay Gould. His This View of Life repeatedly captivated us. We hope you enjoy and learn from this website.

This analysis was obviously assembled by people who love cities and recognize their benefits to their inhabitants and to the environment. We have used the best data we have to quantify some of these benefits. We fess up; we glory in cities. They house human culture.

However, for some time the press has been giving cities bad rap. And since WWII, our government and banking structure have terrorized them:

* Central cities were redlined, denying loans to maintain, restore or buy housing. Consequently, buildings deteriorated. These policies have been softened, but financing mixed use developments, or housing with less than one parking place per unit, is still difficult..

* Zoning laws, propagated by Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover, mandate low density sprawl housing in order to qualify for federal home loans. This zoning mandates up to 5 vehicles off-street (garage) parking per house, wide streets and big side- and front-yard setbacks, while prohibiting markets in residential areas. Some even prohibit sidewalks. Walking and bicycling are dangerous and difficult.

* Federally funded freeway construction bulldozed vast tracks of central city housing and commerce, destroying and dividing neighborhoods while bringing in traffic, noise and pollution. Broad traffic calming must be implemented to protect these neighborhoods. These same freeways opened up vast stretches of farmland and natural areas to sprawl development – additional federal subsidies to sprawl. We have closed some of these freeways, and look forward to closing more.

* The middle class moved school financing to the new suburbs along with themselves, while the poor remained in urban schools. However, some of the best schools remain in central cities. For instance, Lowell High in San Francisco is perhaps the highest performing high school in California. As central city housing is upgraded and mixed-use smart growth infill is built to house more middle class families, urban schools will improve.

Cities still house our nation’s culture: museums, libraries, orchestras, rock and rap bands, restaurants, ethnic neighborhoods, shopping and parks. At densities high enough to provide many nearby destinations, so you can walk or take public transit. You meet neighbors and visitors, and enjoy their neighborhoods, cultures, traditions and festivals. Our best cities are improving public transit, calming traffic and enhancing walking and bicycling.

Perhaps most important in a world drawing smaller yet still divided by misunderstanding and hate, cities allow you to know other cultures. It is harder to hate those who have different histories and traditions when you have walked their neighborhoods, tasted their culture and found similar hopes and fears.

Get out – taste and enjoy of the richness and wonders of cities. We dedicate this webpage to the great cities of the world.

How Does Density Look In Your City?

Other urban areas around the world have experienced the waste of sprawl. This website is San Francisco-centric, but we encourage you to develop one for your city, with local photos and examples.

You are welcome to use our equations, or to improve upon them if you find better or more extensive data. If so, we might just copy it! Please contact John Holtzclaw at john.holtzclaw@sierraclub.org if you have questions or suggestions.

Help Us Improve Our Analysis.

Logic suggests that it takes less concrete, lumber, pipes, wiring and other materials as densities increase due to shared walls, foundations and roofs, and less roadway. But material use might start to intensify at densities above 90 units per residential acre, which require mid- or high-rise construction, and additional seismic strengthening in some areas. We don’t have this relationship quantified, but we would like to.

Similarly, heating and cooling energy should be lower at higher densities as walls, ceiling/floors and roofs are shared and average units decrease in size. But we don’t have the data to justify putting numbers on these impacts.

We would like to include these and other comparisons where levels of consumption differ substantially by density. Please contact John Holtzclaw at john.holtzclaw@sierraclub.org if you have data to support such comparisons, or better data than we have used in our equations.