Sunday, May 9, 2010

Density in Delhi - Lessons for Housing in South East Queensland

Stewart Brand of the Financial Review wrote a fascinating article called Density Integrity.

Did you know that according to the UN, over 1 billion people currently live in slums and this number is predicted to double in the next 25 years. But what can we learn about density from these types of cities?

According Brand, plenty.

Alleyways in squatter cities, for example, are a dense interplay of retail and services - one chair barber shops and three seat bars interspersed with the clothes racks and fruit tables. One proposal is to use these as a model for shopping areas. “Allow the informal sector to take over downtown areas after 6pm,” suggest Jamie Lerner, the former mayor of Curitiba, Brazil. “That will inject life into the city.”

Squatter cities are also unexpectedly green. They have a maximum density - 1 million people a square mile in some areas of Mumbai - and have minimal energy and material use. People get
around by foot, bicycle, rickshaw or the universal shared taxi.

In addition to this, some of the research I have been doing for my PhD on the subject of perceptions of housing density have indicated that, in the US at least, high density living is often inhabited by those in lower income brackets and as such, they can't afford to move away. One of the key factors in improving perceptions of density is that the more transitory the residents, the lower the sense of community. Thus, if residents are essentially 'stuck' in their neighbourhood, they will make as much effort as possible to ensure it is a nice place to live - thus improving the sense of community and therefore their perceptions of density.

While, as Brand says "fast growing cities are far from unmitigated good. They concentrate crime, pollution, disease and injustice as much as business, innovation, education and entertainment", it's interesting to think that density might not be such a dirty word after all.

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