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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.



4 Responses leave one →
  1. Richard L.Dyksterhuis permalink
    September 22, 2011

    Hi Roger, Which high density building are you living in? Your family? Your influenced friends? In Broadview-BitterLake most folks want to live in a single family house with a large lot. They want “someone else” to live in density. How do you convince these folks to move into six story apartments and condos?
    Regards, Richard

    • Matt Gangemi permalink
      September 23, 2011

      “In Broadview-BitterLake most folks want to live in a single family house with a large lot.”

      That’s because that is the style that exists there right now. The residents are self-selecting, and will be even after the housing type changes. After density is built, you’ll be able to say that some Broadview-BitterLake folks want to live in condos and apartments.

  2. September 22, 2011

    Hello Mr. Dyksterhuis,

    This is a question that has been coming up. I struggle with answering it because the question itself implies that it matters. It doesn’t.

    Density is not a punishment or like taking a vow of poverty. Density is good for everyone. But people can choose where to live. However, there is an illusion that living in a single family house on a big lot is somehow reflective of how “free” or “arrived” a family or person is.

    I’ve pointed all this social norm stuff out in my blog. It’s the stubborn view that those of us who want density want to impose it on others, taking away something precious. The fact is that the dominant social engineering has made the single family home the gold standard for the last 60 years. But that pattern has forced land use that is consumptive, destructive, and unsustainable. Density is the answer.

    So I’m not going to answer the question about where I live. To answer that question feeds the norm that density is a bad thing and that to supportive of it requires living in it. I don’t agree with that anymore than I think that one must live within 1000 feet of something to weigh in on it.

    • Quiet Erp permalink
      September 24, 2011

      Diversity is the key element, not density. A low-density suburban town may sustainably serve its residents when it is most economically diverse. Suburbs today are mostly housing with perfunctory retail and scant industry, jobs, formal public spaces etc to become sufficiently diverse economically. Their economies are only made viable via motor vehicles to reach distant workplace, schooling, medical facility, retail, dining, entertainment, etc. Downtown Seattle is sufficiently diverse already, but the dysfunctional economies of its surrounding suburbs overwhelm all freeways and surface streets, disable regional transit and end up dedicating too much space for roads and the travel dependency which corporat America exploits. Higher density in central city isn’t needed as much as economic diversification of suburbs. Seattle has nothing to offer its high-minded morons.

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