Density Revisited

As we continue to learn more about COVID-19 and it’s implications, the issue of urban density has also evolved. Initially this was seen as the real cause for the explosive spread of the virus, first in Hunan China and then around the world to other urban centers. This was fertile ground for the virus to spread, given a large number of people in small spaces.

This post is a follow up to my April 13 post (COVID -19 Weekly Summary), tracing revised perspectives about density.

AZURE March 29, 2020

Will COVID-19 Spell the End of Urban Density? Don’t Bet On It.

Written in during the early stages of the pandemic (March 2020), this article documents the initial blame game that density was the primary cause for the rapid the spread of the virus. Two key questions are then posed as arguments that the demise of dense places is premature and in fact are needed for a variety of reasons.

Does high population density inherently increase vulnerability to epidemic outbreaks?

Given the collapse of urban retail and the rapid proliferation of remote work, can cities remain culturally and socio-economically vital?

The next two articles are recent (May, June 2020), providing persuasive arguments, given the passage of time and the pandemic experience.

Density Isn’t Easy. But It’s Necessary.

This is part of Bloomberg CityLab’s ongoing density series. This piece documents our love/hate views of dense urban areas and why now more than ever are needed.

The question is not whether we need cities and density. The question is whether we have the vision, commitment and fortitude to make our cities equitable, affordable and sustainable as well as dense, creative and diverse.

This “commitment” is now more relevant than ever in the wake of the racial inequality exposed by COVID-19, only reinforced by the aftermath of the George Floyd murder.

The other articles in this series provide a variety of well documented and needed arguments in response to continuing attacks on urban places.

Youth Movement: Accelerating America’s Urban Renaissance

Urban Land Institute, Ngoc Doan, Pulaski Park, Northampton, Massachusetts,

This article is a summary of a larger study by City Observatory, documenting the continuing migration and economic expansion of urban areas. T

“Close-in urban neighborhoods are increasingly attractive to the “young and restless” 25- to 34 year-olds who’ve completed at least a four-year college degree. These well-educated young adults have accounted for more than half of the increase in population in close-in urban neighborhoods in the nation’s large metro areas since 2010.

There’s no evidence that this powerful momentum has been blunted by Coronavirus concerns.”

The Nature Conservancy

It was easy initially for me to say, yes – density spread the COVID. Look at what happened in New York City! But given time, reading, research and reflection, I now understand better the nuances and other forces at play. It is about better design or retrofitting for more urban spaces. It is about discipline of physical distancing (social distancing – really!), masks, contact tracing and hand washing. Just look at how South Korea, Hong Kong and other dense urban areas handled the epidemic.

Rather than a hotbed of germs and viruses, dense places provide the environment and fertile conditions to unleash the human spirit to start new businesses, develop new technologies and take risks to advance mankind. At a more human level, dense places fulfill our need to be social, to gather and share our experiences.

COVID-19 has pointedly demonstrated the systemic economic and racial disparities in our places. I am then hopeful that this will be a transcendental opportunity fix our places, not a passing phase.

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