In the ever-lasting debate over sprawl, the most enduring argument centers on the definition of sprawl itself. The latest entrant is, perhaps, the oldest entrant: density.
As reported by Richard Florida in his CityLab column this week, NYU doctoral student Thomas Laidley has introduced a new method to measure sprawl. Laidley's "Sprawl Index" uses the following methodology:
"Laidley uses these aerial images to estimate sprawl at the Census block level, the smallest level available, estimating the share of metro population in those blocks below three key thresholds: 3,500, 8,500, and 20,000 persons per square mile. His index is based on the average of these three values, with higher scores reflecting higher levels of sprawl."
Consider this headline, which accompanied a recent Citylab article on a townhouse development in Echo Park: "In Los Angeles, Density That Doesn't Overwhelm." It doesn't take much to unpack that statement. It implies that density is inherently overwhelming.
Well, California's at it again -- going in a different direction than the rest of the country. The Census Bureau recently released a new report showed that -- by at least one measure -- the nation's overall population density dropped by 6% between 2000 and 2010. But by this same measure, the population density of most California metro areas -- where almost 90% of Californians live -- is going up. And density's going up faster in the smaller counties. What gives?
I love a Parisian stroll as much as the next guy does, but I have friends in the planning community who make me look like Robert Moses. They ride fixies. They build parklets. They live in lofts. They go on urban hikes. Some don't own cars—in Los Angeles. And I have never heard one of them say, "man, I really wish L.A. was more like Bangladesh."