64 Worst: Urban Density vs. Urban Sprawl

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I’ve recently noticed a trend that reminds me of L.A.’s many ironies: people who used to complain about how spread out Los Angeles is are now worried about skyscrapers and further residential development within city limits. Are they expecting the population of L.A. to stop growing?

Urban density seems to be the hot topic lately, as property developers have been able to twist arms in city government to change zoning laws to allow more to be built on existing space with less restrictions. This means taller buildings, and less requirements to ensure adequate parking even though more people will be encouraged to live in the new developments.

Robert Cruickshank at California Progress Report believes Los Angeles and other cities throughout the state, need more urban density:

Whether they know it or not, those who oppose density are helping establish a “homeowner aristocracy” – where the benefits of society go only to those who were lucky enough to buy a house before 2000, or who inherited from someone who did.

Urban sprawl pretty much defines Los Angeles, with its hundreds of suburbs, thousands of minimalls, and millions of miles of congested roads, along with resulting blight, as affordable housing and better living conditions move further from wherever they work in the city core (a loose term in L.A., to be sure).

A city can be victim to both, but is there a solution? Of course, the more appropriate question here is – which is worse?

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11 Replies to “64 Worst: Urban Density vs. Urban Sprawl”

  1. LOL edraid.

    Urban density is critical for a good urban environment. Urban sprawl destroys the environment and creates the bane on modern society: track housing and strip malls.

  2. High density stresses our resources UNLESS you have ample green spaces to buffer it and natural resources to support (for us its water). You can’t support density without an infrastructure, specifically transportation.

    Sprawl is another mess with the same issues. Our planners over the last 50 years totally screwed us when they didn’t plan in green spaces. Ditto the lack of as mass transit system to support it.

    Tough one as both need a transit system that works, we have neither.

  3. People who like sprawl, hate the environment.

    The biggest problem facing L.A… cue broken record.. is that while its urban density is increasing, it does not have the public transit to support it. And don’t start in on that bus crap. I will smack you.

    Los Angeles needs to grow up – not out. But, it also needs an effective government that will have the guts to build a world-class transit system.

  4. Jason, I disagree with the statement “people who like sprawl, hate the environment”. There are plenty around here in the ‘burbs like our yards and stuff and still give a damn about the environment. It is not that cut and dried. People need to be able to chose the degree of density they are willing to put up with and let them have the options.

    Before we start increasing density anywhere we better have the resources in place to support it. That means green spaces for relief as well as recharing our air and water. Ample water resources and THAT is a critical issue of LA and the west in general.

    Transit is our shared broken record that we toss back and forth. Do you think anyone that can fix it will ever grab the ball from us and simply do so?

  5. I was actually joking around with that statement. But, there is some truth to it.

    I’m not laying blame to people that live in suburbs. You’re just chasing the American dream that everyone else wants. I’m laying blame to city planners who continue to allow the sprawl. People that live in outlying suburbs still have to drive to where the employment is, which puts a strain on infrastructure and the environment.

    We actually just witnessed a rare victory with the recent denial of the Los Lomas development. Sure, lawsuits are coming. But, this could set a precedent.

    http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-laslomas20mar20,1,4042623.story

  6. I’ve followed Las Lomas for years. I hope it is not a short lived victory as we do need open spaces for a lot of reasons. A lot of this high density is wrought with problems and IF our county and LA were serious about smart growth they’d set up some huge tracts left undeveloped, some park other simply wild and get an infrastructure in place to support it. Then they can go back in and layer in some density where it makes sense. Absent following the parameters in smart growth you have stupid drooling on yourself in the corner grower not unlike the sprawl itself.

    What happens when they leave areas zoned for development that are still natural developers can sue to build. There is room for a variety of density if planned correctly.

  7. High density stresses our resources UNLESS you have ample green spaces to buffer it and natural resources to support (for us its water). You can’t support density without an infrastructure, specifically transportation.

    That’s just wrong. Sprawl requires more infrastructure, uses up more natural green space, requires more water, and requires less sustainable/economical transportation modes. I mean, yes, any piece of civilization will strain resources, but sprawl, by its sprawling nature is more of a strain than density.

    Sprawl is another mess with the same issues. Our planners over the last 50 years totally screwed us when they didn’t plan in green spaces. Ditto the lack of as mass transit system to support it.

    The very nature of sprawl is the destruction of green spaces. And sprawl and mass transit are not compatible. Mass transit requires density, sprawl is the opposite of density. This is why it’s such a challenge to set up an effective mass transit system in a place that has sprawled as much as Los Angeles. The only transportation system that is effective for sprawl, due to the distances involved and lack of centralization, is the private automobile, but as we’ve seen even that cannot sustain as population grows. Density allows for transportation options… by having many humans living in a small centralized geographical area, mass transit becomes an effective choice, as do even more economical options like walking and bicycling, because distances are reduced.

    here are plenty around here in the ‘burbs like our yards and stuff and still give a damn about the environment.

    I don’t see how you can talk about the water problem, but then also talk about liking your yard. We live in a region where it rains for like 1 month a year, yet we all want our own bit of lush green grass surrounding our single family home. Watering the average lawn requires 750 gallons of water. And for what? This website has an interesting tidbit:

    “Although single family homes account for about 55 percent of the total occupied housing stock, they account for about 70 percent of total residential water demands. This variation occurs because single-family households tend to use more water than households living in multifamily structures (such as duplexes, triplexes, apartment buildings) on a per housing-unit basis. Single family households tend to have more persons living in the household; they are likely to have more water-using appliances and fixtures; and they tend to have more landscaping per home.”

    Bottom line, sprawl is not environmentally sound, economically sound, and its relationship to “the American Dream” is a product of marketing.

  8. Jason, By saing LA has to “Grow up” did you mean in we need to have taller buildings or that we needed to start acting like adults not little kids?

  9. I’m for urban density. Everything about suburbia destroys the environment BUT we can’t turn the urban environment into suburbia aka downtown LA.

    We need to have little residencies, less stuff, less TV watching, less mass consumption.

    If we’re going to have an urban city we must encourage those residents to not use private vehicles, to not have huge residencies, to walk to grocery stores, to try to find jobs close to where they live and play.

    Downtown LA should limit new residences to 500 sq feet and charge people in a way that will hurt badly to park a car.

    Many people in high density areas are just “playing urban” living, but aren’t really living it, because they still have cars, they still shop in places that they have to go by freeway to get to, they refuse to take the bus, they complain that there are no Targets and big shopping center, they get things like Ralph’s built (with validated parking) they add to the problem, they add to mass consumption.

    Why aren’t we all shopping at Farmer’s Markets? Why aren’t we encouraging more little stuff? I just know downtown LA is going to build a Borders at some point and it’s going to be viewed as a good thing.

    To me urban living should look like Amsterdam. If we want urban density to work for the environment it can’t just be cramming everyone into one spot with no planning. We got to get rid of the whole LA thing, even though its downtown.

    Downtown LA really needs to get rid of private vehicles if it wants to be environmentally helpful.

    Browne

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