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How we define “housing density” is a big part of the problem

By Michael Kimmelman, The New York Times, January 28, 2020

“… [O]pposition to density has only stiffened as the gulf widens between the 1 percent and everyone else. Well-to-do NIMBYs, congenitally opposed to new developments, have lately been joined by anti-displacement tenant activists — advocates for poor and working-class residents who might ordinarily want more housing but have come to fear that nearly all development brings gentrification that prices the most vulnerable out of neighborhoods. In cities like New York, San Francisco, Chicago, and Boston, this new alliance means even initiatives promising some subsidized housing have become lines in the sand. …

“Jane Jacobs preached what ‘Housing Density’ enumerates: New York’s lower-density housing developments failed to achieve the quality of life that high-density neighborhoods provide.

“Jacobs wasn’t focused on gentrification, and New York is not Palo Alto is not Barcelona is not Hong Kong: Density is not one size fits all. Urbanism isn’t a mere kit of parts. That said, the implications today are still plain for rezoning legislation like [California’s] S.B. 50 and for efforts like Mayor de Blasio’s proposal to densify select public housing sites by building new mixed-income private developments on their land. …

“Solving what ails American cities also requires urbanists and activists to acknowledge that not all real-estate development is automatically bad. It demands rethinking some anti-densifying rules and regulations. And it will depend on a shared understanding of what density actually means.

“ ‘Housing Density’ is not a bad place to start.”

Read more here.

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