Density in the Age of Danger

Don’t let the ‘D’-word scare you.

Photo by Manuel Peris Tirado on Unsplash

But First, the Virus Isn’t Our Only Danger

While COVID-19 has seemingly taken over our consciences in recent weeks and months, the truth is that pandemics are but one danger threatening our communities. Human threats like mass shootings persist in the United States. Climate threats like rising sea levels and hurricanes loom over coastal regions. Then there’s land desertification, cyber warfare, bioterrorism, and on and on it goes.

Second, a Disclaimer About the Suburbs

It is hard not to argue that suburbanization has resulted in a level of convenience not experienced before. Large grocery stores and big box retailers give us an endless variety of goods to suit everyone’s tastes and needs. Ostensibly free roads and free parking enable unfettered access to restaurants, medical facilities, and retailers of all kinds. In suburbia we can choose which school our kids attend, which house plan we want built, and even which church fits our style of worship.

Lastly, a Disclaimer About the D-Word

For some, the term density conjures up images of massive towers in the heart of cities like Chicago and New York. This is not what I am suggesting when I advocate for compact development. To many urbanists, density ranges across a spectrum of building types from small-lot single-family housing and duplexes to mid-rise condominium buildings with active commercial space at the street. Only at busy transit centers and in our central business districts are buildings taller than 12 stories likely to make sense.

What Does Density in the Age of Danger Look Like?

Most of all, well-designed density should foster positive human interaction (yes, even now). Houses should have generous porches that are close enough to the sidewalk to enable a conversation with passers-by if desired, but far enough away that the two spaces feel separate. Similarly, apartments should offer balconies that are sized for sociability but spaced far-enough apart to enable private conversation.

Photo by Ben Koorengevel on Unsplash

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