Density is Not a Bad Word

One of the most crucial issues facing urban planning is accommodating growth in a manner that can be sustained over time. In cities like Seattle, urban growth is a contentious, much discussed topic and it will only continue to become more important. If growth forecasts are accurate, over 70% of the world’s population will live in urban areas by 2050. It is imperative for all cities to actively prepare for population growth.

In an urban center like Seattle, planning for and thoughtfully managing density is a reality and the responsibility of residents, developers, planners and decision-makers. It is time to move beyond opposition of density and re-direct our collective energy to creating concentrated development that is contextually appropriate and environmentally sound.

The discussion and implementation of density would benefit from more thoughtful approaches that take local needs into consideration. This looks like contextualizing the development within the framework of the neighborhood first and the city and to the larger region second.

The banal, characterless “breadloaf” development that has plagued Seattle sets a disappointing, not to mention grossly limited, precedence of what density looks like.Image

(Credit: Dan Bertolet

These models of development both fail to provide the kind of density needed in urban cores and effectively sterilize an area. A contextualized approach to densification could assuage what Alan During refers to as the “fierce opposition” mounted by low-density neighborhoods (a recent example being Mt. Baker station area, a complaint that will only become more common as transit centers continue to develop).

 What community desires to be stifled by cookie-cutter development that does not provide true density but also results in widespread homogenization? We need development that accommodates location-specific characteristics in order to garner widespread support for density.

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