Understanding density?

Density is much more complex than its seems. U-Thant 7 Residences in Malaysia are described as luxury “low density condominiums.” In terms of their built form they would usually be considered a medium density form of living. The context, however, is more typical of low density or even rural or semi-rural settings with a formal park-like foreground setting and a natural background setting.

Undoubtably there are many more examples of this kind. The Cultural Centre design by Paul Eluard in Cugnaux, France attempts to address the contemporary needs of an historical low density city within the landscape.

Dublin is considered to be a low density city. The economic challenges it faces and the resulting contemporary waves of youth emigration suggests that Dublin may remain low density for some time into the future.

So, are we really viewing a population redistribution in global terms with some areas de-populating and others re-populating or increasing in population? What does this trend suggest for the future of our cities, for greenspaces and for wilderness?

21 thoughts on “Understanding density?

  1. Lawrence

    In Germany large areas of the eastern counties of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Sachsen-Anhalt, Sachsen and Thueringen are expecting population shrinkages of 15% or more in the time period 2008-2025. This trend can now be observed moving to the western counties, even including the rich industrial power-house Bavaria. Responses range from re-marketing areas as cheap, peaceful retirement places to wholesale demolition of unused properties. Wolves have returned to Sachsen and Brandenburg. The political challenge is to accept that standards of expectation can no longer be equally spread over the country – the maintenance of for example expensive sewage systems cannot be justified if only a hand full of pensioners are now connected up to it. Village life and culture are the main victims of this demographic change, it is of course always the young, energetic and talented who leave first.

  2. Tom Turner

    I agree with Christine’s comments on the U-Thant residences. By world standards, the whole of the UK is low-density and I guess it will become more American in the sense of having high-density city centres and lowering densities in the suburbs.

    The population decline in East Germany has amazed me for years. My guess is that it is like the tide: it is going out now but a time will come when the water will begin rising again. The population is also falling in Russia and Japan – but surely these trends cannot be projected into the future.

  3. Christine

    The ability of the younger generation to support the older generation is consider one of the indicators of ‘underpopulation’. [ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Declining_population ] It is an economic rather than an environmental indicator.

    The economic life of cities and the environmental life of cities, and the associated ecosystem services (agriculture, carbon exchange etc) supporting cities, need to be considered.

    Lawrence, do countries like Germany map the re-distribution of their citizens within the nation and globally?

  4. Christine

    ps. Tom I think there is an important difference to be made between population density defined as 1) residential status (defined by private dwellings) 2) people per sq km (population in an area) or 3) the predominant built form typology of cities and their natural context (green space) relationships.

    On the first measure London ranks 43 in terms of world cities with Paris at 69 and New York at 114. [ http://www.citymayors.com/statistics/largest-cities-density-125.html ]

    Yet, as stated elsewhere Paris and New York, the same residential population (defined by private dwellings) but different urban forms.

    An example of this complexity is illustrated by changes in inner city v metropolitan residential densities in the Australian capital cities. Inner city Brisbane experienced greater changes in density (1991 -2001) than inner city Sydney and an almost equivalent rate of increase to inner city Melbourne. However, inner city Perth experienced the greatest rate of inner city residential densification in this time period.

    What would be interesting to view, is how the changing residential densities have affected built form. How is the mix of uses within cities meaningful for ie the economic life v the social life of cities?

  5. Lawrence

    The issue of regional depopulation is slowly moving to the top of Germany’s political agenda and several government agencies provide reliable statistics of movement within the country that allow accurate mapping both of the current situation and of trends. Jobs, wealth and people are concentrating themselves around the established economic centres, the countryside is emptying. All serious registers currently hold this process to be irreversible. Given the billions of Euros that have been pumped into the east (where depopulation is actually accelerating) since re-unification it does seem clear that investment alone is not a solution.

  6. Christine

    I am supposing that Berlin is not experiencing this trend to de-population despite being part of the former East Germany?

    Is the countryside emptying equally in the former divisions of East and West Germany?

  7. Tom Turner

    Wiki has a fascinating list of countries by population growth rate. It shows some of the ‘worst organised’ countries at top of the list and some of the former Soviet countries at the bottom of the list. What conclusions can be drawn from this? One could argue that the ‘best’ thing for humanity is to have social dis-organisation (1) the population will grow faster (2) Darwinian selection will ensure genetic improvements to the propulation – because with high infant mortality and low life expectancy there will be more opportunities for the fittest to survive.

  8. Tom Turner

    I know that density is important but it does not have a prominent place in the characteristics I notice when visiting cities (maybe it is more prominent in what I notice about the typical urban patterns of countries).

  9. Christine

    How does a city with a high urban density look? Ranking by population density [ http://www.citymayors.com/statistics/largest-cities-density-125.html ]:

    1. Mumbai – [ http://4.bp.blogspot.com/_QxzuGLpyU3Y/TTqY_SF-XiI/AAAAAAAAARc/BZC7ArEoxyU/s1600/india_mumbai-01.jpg ]

    3. Karachi – [ http://www.balochistannationalparty.org/jmb/images/stories/karachi.jpg ]

    5. Shenzen – [ http://cache.virtualtourist.com/1078284-Shenzhen_skyline-Shenzhen.jpg ]

    7. Taipai – [ http://www.metrolic.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/01/taipei2.jpg ]

    9. Bogota – [ http://streetswiki.wikispaces.com/file/view/bogota_plaza1.jpg/126647279/bogota_plaza1.jpg ]

    Each of these images is possibly misleading to some degree in terms of understanding the reality of urban density. Perhaps a series of photograph would be more accurate?

  10. Tom Turner

    The images are interesting but to answer your question, about the visual image of a high-density city, one would need to (1) demarcate a city into character areas (2) obtain typical/representative images of each character area. For example, the residential districts of Chinese cities tend to be either (1) old and dominated by traditional single-storey houses (2) modern and dominated by high-rise blocks. These zones could easily be mapped and illustrated. In London, large areas are dominated by either (1) nineteenth century terrace housing (2) nineteenth century villas (3) twentieth century ‘semi-detached’ houses (4) recent apartment blocks. They could all be mapped and illustrated.

  11. Lawrence

    Berlin (both former west and former east) and most but not all of the surrounding county of Brandenburg are still attracting people. The former eastern counties are depopulating at a faster rate than the western, but certain districts such as the former heavy industrial areas of the western Nordrhein-Westfalen are catching up.

  12. Christine

    Lawrence why are these areas of Germany depopulating? Are young people moving away (to other regions/cities/nations)? Are the activities of these areas changing? (Less agricultural and heavy industrial activity – due to changing farming practices or off-shoring of heavy industry – potentially leading to carbon leakage.) Is an ageing population dying at a faster rate than replacement birth rates?

    Tom, I agree mapping into character areas and illustrating residential zones within cities and determining the residential population density would be useful. Potentially it would enable more meaningful analysis and comparisons to be made.

  13. Tom Turner

    The population of the UK is rising but (1) it is rising fastest in London (by 7% in the 1990s, which was decade before the last published census) (2) the other large conurbations lost 2.1% of their population (eg Tyne and Wear lost 4.1%). (3) outside the conurbations, the fastest rise (6.1%) was in ‘remoter mainly rural’ areas. Info from http://sticerd.lse.ac.uk/dps/case/cbcb/census1.pdf The authors conclude that ‘the older industrial areas of the North face significant barriers to regrowing the econcomy’. People want well-paid jobs and nice places to live. They do not want to live in areas of derelict factories and decling employment opportunities. I guess this is what is happening in Germany.

  14. Lawrence

    The population of Germany is declining generally because of low birth rates, added to this is economic migration, perhaps accelerated by the fact that childless people are more mobile. It has proven much more difficult than anticipated to bring the economic performance of the former east to a level where it can compete equally with the west and once young people start to leave in search of better prospects a self-perpetuating cycle is quickly established. The former steel producing areas of the west – on which Germany’s post-war boom was based – have been heavily subsidized since the decline of the steel industry. These subsidies have not seeded many sustainable economic activities and now that the country can’t afford the subsidies any more the industrial areas are now experiencing the recession that they would otherwise have had several decades ago, with the result that the young are leaving these areas too. The Landschaftspark Duisburg-Nord [ http://www.flickr.com/photos/22115412@N05/4934536058/ ] is an example of how such subsidies have been used to create a unique landscape park.

  15. christine

    It is rather strange that in the internet age jobs are still so location specific! Nice places to live also come with investment in properties. So a well paid job could intrinsically assist with a nice place to both live.

    Typical discourse on telecommuting suggests working from home as the model, rather than specifying geographic remoteness as the defining factor. [ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Telecommuting ] Geographically separated employment opportunities could assist with investment in ‘derelict’ factories and office conversions etc providing nice places to work.

    Perhaps the mapping of character areas (office, factory, shop, farm etc) also needs to map workplaces and work type densities? (professional, agricultural, manufacturing etc)

    The link between residential and economic densities of course, is the ‘communication’ between the two locations (whether physical transportation or virtual connection and how and when it occurs.)

  16. christine

    ps. Lawrence, the Powerhouse in Brisbane is actually located close to the city (central business district), however it is a good example of the re-adaptation potential of industrial building types. [ http://my247.com.au/brisbane/photos/Brisbane-Powerhouse.6664 ]

    The Powerhouse (marked in green) is located on the river on adjacent to New Farm Park (marked in blue).
    [ http://4.bp.blogspot.com/_Pw4OV7kWsWM/ShzPBR8o1-I/AAAAAAAAE9s/jdij0UEqxUk/s400/New+Farm.jpg ]

  17. Tom Turner

    Cornwall (in SW England) has had an unexpected jobs boom which has been assisted by telecommuting. For example, many of the specialist firms which support London’s publishing industry have re-located to nice old buildings in nice old villages with views of hills, waves and forests.

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  19. Christine Post author

    I suppose the population is climbing in some areas and declining in others? See population by continent [ http://www.geohive.com/earth/pop_continent.aspx ] to get an idea of population density and spread and population growth rates to understand how population in changing in different countries. [ http://www.nationmaster.com/graph/peo_pop_gro_rat-people-population-growth-rate ]. Also see population decline in each country. [ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Population_decline ]


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