Sunday, September 11, 2011

Review: Visualizing Density

Source: Visualizing Density Website.

There's a great short book out called Visualizing Density (2007) by Julie Campoli and Alex S. MacLean. Here's the gist from the also excellent Visualizing Density website:
"Visualizing Density includes an essay on the density challenge facing the United States, an illustrated manual on planning and designing for 'good' density, and a catalog of more than 250 diverse neighborhoods across the country, noting density in housing units per acre for each site. Four photographs of each location are included—close-up, context, neighborhood, and plan views—to provide an impartial and comparative view of the many ways to design neighborhoods."
We hear about how, while building more densely has many environmental and economic benefits (e.g. less driving, less land consumption, less money spent on infrastructure), people often resist it. The authors argue that design plays a key role in how people perceive density and in quality of life of any built environment. Design addresses issues like access to green spaces, how the street pattern helps or hinders the ability to walk, how much access to privacy and quiet people enjoy even within a dense, mixed-use environment, and the presence (or absence) of architectural variety and detail, which makes places more interesting and navigable visually.

Some of the photos truly surprise by showing places that look denser than they are or less dense than they are, which seems to reinforce the point that quality design can play a key role in winning people's acceptance of a denser, more sustainable built environment.

Finally, the website is worth a look as well. The first chapter of the book is available as a free download. If you check out the links on the left here you'll find many of the images in the book in a searchable database, as well as activities like a quiz that asks you to judge which of two images looks denser.

All told, these are great resources for explaining what density can look like and why it's important, to people who may not have given it much thought in the past. These are the very people that must be convinced if our built environment is going to change significantly.

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