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S400: Density Heals

2011 September 18
by Roger Valdez

The assignment is to offer a ‘solution’ in 400 words or so. But my solution takes one word: density.

But I know that’s not good enough, so I’ll try to explain how I think more people living closer together can “heal the planet.” I will reprise my Urbanist Creed.

City life — lots of people living close together — is healthier, creates less damage to our air and water, is a more efficient use of land and energy, and fosters social cohesion and community.

The division between public and private realms is conceptual not physical—that is, we can live close together and still have privacy. We can build cities that allow every resident or visitor to move between the public and private realms at will, affordably, and with ease. Privacy and choice are important and cities can create more rather than fewer choices.

Aggregating the way we meet our basic needs — eating, drinking, housing ourselves, clothing ourselves, and entertaining each other — makes common sense, is more efficient than land use policies that separate use, and will build stronger connections between people of every race, class, sex, and orientation.

Living close together and meeting our needs close to home, makes getting around easier. By bringing the things we want and need closer to where we live we ensure less time traveling and more time living. And such a living arrangement creates positive interdependence. When we depend on each other, we realize we’re only as good as the least among us.

That’s why many of our region’s greatest economic and social problems — poverty, crime, homelessness, poor academic performance—can be significantly and positively impacted when people live closer together because, if nothing else, our proximity to each other makes the suffering of our fellow person intolerable.

So if healing is what we’re looking for let’s get closer together. It will be uncomfortable for sure. Some views will be blocked. Some noise will be made. Some smells will be smelled that we don’t want to smell. But breathe it in! Roll around in it! Jump on it and hold on with both arms and both legs. It’s called density, and it’s going to save us all.



Roger Valdez is a Seattle researcher and writer. He recently read through Seattle’s land use code and blogged about it.