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The question of density is closely connected to urbanization and how our cities may evolve in the future. Density and compactness are two closely related but different criteria, both relevant for sustainable urban development and the transformation of cities; however, their relationship is not always well understood. While a high degree of compactness is desirable, too much density can be detrimental to liveability, health and urban well-being. The purpose of this article is to report first on an extreme case of hyper-density: the Kowloon Walled City (demolished in 1993), where 50,000 residents led a grim life in one of the most densely populated precincts in the world with intolerable sanitary conditions. While the Walled City was a truly mixed-use and extremely compact precinct, it was neither a ‘liveable neighbourhood’ nor sustainable. The article then explores some more recent cases of optimized quality density in developments in Singapore, Sydney and Vancouver. This article sets out to answer the question: Since density is key to sustainable urbanism, what are the drivers and different planning approaches in relation to establishing an optimal density? And what is the ideal density model for tomorrow’s sustainable cities? Some of the critical thinking around the high-density cases is replicable and could translate to other cities to inform new approaches to quality density. Medium to high-density living is acceptable to residents as long as these developments also provide at the same time an increase in quality green spaces close by. The article explores which density types could help us to create highly liveable, economically vibrant, mixed-use and resilient neighbourhoods of the future. It concludes that every development requires a careful optimization process adapted to the conditions of each site. Keywords: Sustainable urbanism, Urban density, Compactness, Kowloon Walled City, Density optimization process Introduction: the great density debate live in cities, the cities have taken centre stage as key As urban populations and economies are expanding, and players in the future of human populations. City manage- with increasing numbers of people joining the middle ment, governance, urban mobility, liveability and density class (earning and spending more), consumption, energy have all become key themes for politicians and decision demand and waste generation are all rising . Due to makers who are attempting to manage urbanization, our obsession with economic growth, the GDP-driven but in conditions of rapid urbanization (especially with growth model and excessive use of finite resources, global the dynamic exploding urbanism of Asian cities), con- greenhouse gas emissions keep rising – despite all the ef- trolled sustainable development has not always been forts of the last 20 years to reduce them. It appears that achieved; for instance, urban infrastructures are in- there is a growing gap between current urbanization pat- creasingly fragmented . terns and what would really be needed to shift to more One core challenge for cities in the future will be the sustainable urban futures [5, 28, 59, 68]. tension between urban form, compactness and liveability. Already half of the world’s land surface has been trans- A crucial question is: What is optimal density and what formed for humanity’s use. As more and more people sort of urban form (e.g. compact vs dispersed, formal vs informal) and process (e.g. top-down vs participatory) can be utilized to realize it? Correspondence: Steffen.Lehmann@port.ac.uk The University of Portsmouth, Faculty of Creative and Cultural Industries, Winston Churchill Avenue, Portsmouth PO1 2DJ, UK © 2016 The Author(s). Open Access This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made. Lehmann Future Cities and Environment (2016) 2:8 Page 2 of 13 The modern city is also about diversity, which includes Population density: the number of persons living in varying urban densities for different neighbourhoods in any given area. different parts of the city [23, 25, 32, 34, 37, 38, 46, 60]. The diversity of building scales and density types allows The plot ratio (also called ‘floor area ratio’,FAR;or ‘floor different demographic groups to choose how they would space ratio’, FSR) describes the ratio of a building’stotal like to live at varying stages of their lives; for example floor area (also called: gross floor area, GFA) divided by young professionals are now streaming back into the city the size of the site (piece of land or plot) upon which it is and do not opt to live isolated in suburbs or far away built. The term frequently refers to limits imposed on from amenities and their workplace, in the search for a such a ratio, for example the maximum allowable ratio. more cosmopolitan lifestyle. On the other hand, high For instance, a FAR of 3.0 indicates that the total floor density is frequently blamed for leading to apartment area of a building is three times the gross area of the plot living in towers, which is less suitable for families with on which it is built, as would be found in a multiple- smaller children and pets. But cities where residents do storey building. The allowable plot area has a major not need to drive much and efficient public transport is impact on the value of the land, as higher allowable plot available have many advantages. It appears that these areas yield a higher land value . conflicting demands always need to be balanced through Using such zoning regulations, municipalities have good design solutions. found it unnecessary to include height limitations for buildings when using maximum floor area ratio calcula- Review of urban density and compactness tions. The plot or floor area ratio is used in zoning Urban density and mixed-use are key factors in deter- regulations and planning guidelines to limit the amount mining the sustainability of a precinct or neighbourhood of construction in a certain area. For example, if the rele- and its urban liveability . Mixed-use neighbourhoods vant zoning ordinance permits construction on a site, and are more likely to offer employment locally. Urban if construction must adhere to a 0.10 FAR, then the total districts have a significant complexity about them, and area of all floors in all buildings constructed on the parcel clearly there is still a need for more research, compara- must be no more than one-tenth the area of the parcel tive data and an evidence base on the benefits and itself. An architect can plan for either a single-storey detriments of more dense and compact cities, which has building consuming the entire allowable area in one floor, frequently been noted by different scholars [3, 6, 8, 16, or a multi-storey building which must consequently result 21, 24, 27, 31, 35, 41, 47, 49, 56]. Urban density is a term in a smaller footprint than a single-storey building of the used in urban planning and design to refer to the same total floor area. number of people inhabiting a given urbanized area, and Urban planner Andres Duany  has criticized the use the amount of floor area built on a defined site. It is of FAR regulation and argued that ‘abdicating purely to considered an important factor in understanding how floor area ratios (market forces) is the opposite of aiming cities function. However, the link between urban density for enhancing a community or neighbourhood and for and aspects of sustainability remains a contested and diversity of ownership, as it is a poor predictor of physical often misunderstood subject of planning theory. And urban form’. He argues that instead of pure FAR the residents do not know enough about densities in cities, traditional design standards (building height, lot coverage, but are concerned about potential negative impacts. setbacks or build-to lines) should be used, as these enable Density is one of the key issues in planning that can anyone to make reasonably accurate predictions, recognize regularly create all kinds of misunderstandings and violations, feel secure in their investment decisions and are tensions, but is an essential driver of our urban futures . likely to deliver a better urban form outcome . We use density to describe the average number of people, Urban population densities vary widely from city to households, floor space or housing units on one unit of city . Asian cities have some of the highest densities land, usually expressed in dwellings per hectare. There are (frequently over 10 000 people per square kilometre, and different ways of measuring the density of urban areas: sometimes even over 20 000 people, such as in Mumbai and Hong Kong, where a large proportion of the build- Floor area ratio: the total floor area of buildings ings are high-rise apartment towers). The historical divided by the land area of the plot upon which European cities have lower densities and are usually the buildings are built (also called the development based on the ‘European compact perimeter block’ model, plot ratio, used as a measure of the density of the with densities in the range of 3 000 to 6 000 people per site being developed; the ratio is generated by square kilometre. In the US, Canada and Australia, dividing the building area by the site area) urban population densities are usually much lower, and Residential density: the number of dwelling units in can range from around 1 000 to 2 500 people per square any given area kilometre [41, 57]. Lehmann Future Cities and Environment (2016) 2:8 Page 3 of 13 Hence, there are three clearly identifiable city typologies should not be confused by the different denominations that have their own characteristics, density profiles and that have emerged to describe the ‘compact city’, which historical evolution: is sometimes also called green urbanism, sustainable urbanism, ecological urbanism, among others – it all the European compact and polycentric mid-rise means the same thing. city with the traditional perimeter block My research recommends compact building shapes with (examples include Barcelona, Paris, Berlin and a surface area to volume (A/V) ratio of 0.7. Irregular forms Athens): 3 000 to 6 000 people per sqkm or dispersed city forms are energy inefficient . the Asian high-rise city with distribution of The compact city also increases efficiencies in urban individual towers (examples include Shanghai, infrastructure and services through shorter distribution Beijing, Tokyo and Bangkok): often around networks. Higher density cities encourage reduced tran- 10 000 people per sqkm sit through shorter trip lengths, since most amenities the North American and Australian low-rise and public transport are more closely located. Church- and low-density city typology with an urban man  defines compact city policies as policies that downtown core surrounded by extensive urban aim to intensify urban land use through a combination sprawl (examples include Los Angeles, Phoenix, of higher residential density and centralization, mixed Melbourne and Perth): only 1 000 to 2 500 land use and limits on development outside of a clearly people per sqkm. designated area (an urban growth boundary)  outline three aspects of the compact city: it is high density, A ‘high-density intensified city’ is therefore a city that has mixed use and intensified. high average population density, high density of mixed-use Urbanist  defines ‘urban intensity’ through a formula built form, high-density sub-centres and high-density forms with four factors: of housing. Many researchers have argued that a denser, Urban Intensity ¼ Density þ Diversity more compact city is a more sustainable city [27, 29, 35, þ Connectedness 50,55].Susan Roaf notesthat ‘high density (not high-rise) þ Compactness is probably the inevitable urban future’ (, 37). What exactly is a compact city?A compact city is a However, making neighbourhoods more compact and mixed-use spatial urban form characterized by ‘compact- dense needs careful consideration and a process of ness’, which defines a relatively dense urban area linked by optimization to balance potential adverse effects; higher easy access to public transport systems and designed to density is beneficial at appropriate locations, but not have minimal environmental impact by supporting walk- always in every case. All urban areas have their particu- ing and cycling (while low-density suburbs are incapable lar social and climatic conditions as a result of complex of supporting walking, cycling and public transport infra- urban microclimates, and density affects urban wind structure). The compact city with four- to eight-storey speeds. The interplay between higher density and the urban perimeter blocks represents the optimum use of increased risk of the urban heat island effect (which space . However, the compact city concept is still increases cooling energy needs) must be properly controversial and there is no single model that can be researched and taken into consideration. Density directly replicated as all cities are different. influences the urban microclimate. Negative effects on the Today, most experts agree that compact living is urban climate can be improved by increasing greenery sustainable living. While a more compact city is more sus- and vegetation, and choosing materials and surfaces that tainable, expanding the city footprint farther and farther minimize solar heat gain and increase the albedo effect. into critical habitat areas, precious agricultural land and In many places there are limits to how dense cities of green spaces is now understood as environmentally un- the future will become. For instance, Edwards notes: acceptable . Cities like Portland, Oregon have success- ‘Commercial buildings need space for cooling and venti- fully established a growth boundary that curbed the sprawl. lation, over-compaction can lead to an increase in Recent research shows that compact city design can typic- energy use, especially with global warming, and not the ally reduce average car use by as much as 2000 kilometres reduction that we see in residential neighbourhoods.’ per person per annum . He continues: There has been plenty of evidence that more compact cities with higher densities encourage the use of public transport, support closer amenities, increase efficiencies As densities increase there is a corresponding of infrastructure and land use, conserve valuable land reduction in access to renewable energy – sunlight resources and are likely to reduce the carbon emissions and wind. Too much physical closeness can reduce of the urban dweller [12, 21, 27, 35, 40, 58, 66]. We daylight in buildings and limit access to solar energy. Lehmann Future Cities and Environment (2016) 2:8 Page 4 of 13 Over-compact cities also suffer from air-pollution … of daylight, as was the case with the Walled City. For a So, although there are benefits to increased density, long time Hong Kong’s extremely high density has led these benefits are limited and vary according to to apartments which have never seen a ray of sunshine climate, land use type, culture and latitude. and to narrow streets described as ‘airless canyons’ . (, 144) The lack of natural ventilation and cooling breezes in the city at pedestrian level has increased the urban heat Living in apartments is often the more sustainable island effect and brought serious health impacts by solution, and urban perimeter blocks share circulation changing the urban microclimate (a fact that has been systems, separating walls and roofs, therefore requiring researched extensively by [48, 51, 53, 62, 63, 69]; and less materials during construction. In the US and Australia, other urban scientists). researchers have now collected and analysed the actual Ungoverned, uncontrolled and unregulated, the Walled energy-use data for a large number of residential units; and City was a huge block of around 300 interconnected there is emerging evidence that living in inner-city high-rise buildings ranging from 10 to 14 floors, on a small site of buildings is a less energy-intensive lifestyle – all other only 2.2 hectares. According to Ian Lambot’sdocumenta- things being equal – than in equivalent low-rise buildings tion in ‘City of Darkness’ , Kowloon Walled City began in suburbs, despite the need for elevators. This is mainly as a fortress used by the Chinese to defend the city against due to two factors: the suburban house is usually larger and the British invasion in the middle of the nineteenth very energy intense because of air-conditioning and other century and later served as a hiding place for gangs and energy-consuming devices; and the other reason is the need criminals. An amazing labyrinth of passageways, small to commute by car to the workplace. rooms and courtyards, it contained a great variety of But when is a city getting too dense, and at what point is functions: a mixed-use, hyper-dense block that was a precinct over-developed? For instance, tall towers require home to around 25,000 families and businesses living in extra energy for ventilation and elevators, they cast high-rise buildings, frequently in windowless cramped shadows over the surrounding cityscape, reduce other flats, and all constructed without a contribution from buildings’ access to daylight and solar energy, are expensive a single architect (Figs. 1a, b, c, d). and complicated to maintain, have a high proportion of cir- I visited the Walled City in 1989 and I remember the culation and technical space, can generate damaging mi- maze of dark corridors and laneways formed within the ‘su- croclimates and contribute to the urban heat island effect. perblock’; an extreme outcome of dramatically increasing Each time, higher densities require an optimization population and a laissez-faire attitude by the government process as higher densities can create challenges for plan- in the 1960s and 70s, leading to unhealthy conditions and ners and designers, for instance, to avoid over-shading, intolerable sanitary conditions. Some residents never left over-looking, loss of daylight and the loss of privacy, the superblock as everything they needed was at hand, and which demands clever design solutions. There are a num- inhabitants walked the narrow alleys with umbrellas to ber of other arguments against high density, which in- shield themselves from the constant dripping of water clude the risk of increasing traffic congestion in the pipes above. area and a potential increase in noise disturbance. We Opium parlours, prostitution and unlicensed dentists can also point to districts where densities were devel- alongside kindergartens, tiny factories and food stalls – oped too high and these developments failed, because the infamous Kowloon Walled City was once one of the the lack of natural ventilation or daylight created un- densest places on earth. With a population density of 1.2 healthy and unhygienic conditions. million per square kilometre, the settlement had no gov- One of the most well-known examples of such hyper- ernment enforcement from the Chinese or British. The density was the extremely dense ‘Kowloon Walled City’ population burgeoned with refugees from mainland in Kowloon (Hong Kong), which was demolished in China and the area became a haven for vice, controlled 1992–93 because of the many issues that arose out of by triads. 25 years have passed since it has been erased the extreme hyper-density of the precinct. It is estimated from the Hong Kong landscape and converted into a that over 50,000 people lived in squeezed conditions in park, while some hold onto the memories of such ex- dark cramped flats, on only a small parcel of land . treme conditions of population density. As well as be- Kowloon Walled City was a functioning urban commu- ing the location for Hollywood films, such as Crime nity; but was it a sustainable place to live? Story, the infamous settlement has even been recreated as a theme park. Remembering hyper-density: the case of Kowloon Li Shiqiao wrote that Kowloon Walled City was associated Walled City in Hong Kong with anarchy and lawlessness; it was ‘the extraordinary ex- Poorly managed (or neglected) and badly planned dens- ample of a physical expression of the city of maximum ity can lead to overcrowding, overdevelopment and lack quantities in an embryonic form’;and he notes: ‘It failed Lehmann Future Cities and Environment (2016) 2:8 Page 5 of 13 Fig. 1 a and b: The Kowloon Walled City in Hong Kong, demolished in 1992-93 due to its extreme density and unhealthy living conditions. Left: aerial photo. Right: All that remains today of the Hong Kong legend: the bronze model of Kowloon Walled City in the middle of a public park where it once stood. c: Aerial photo of Kowloon Walled City, a compact superblock with over 50,000 residents. (Source: Greg Girard and Ian Lambot, 1980s). d: Kowloon Walled City in Hong Kong; it earned its Cantonese nickname ‘City of Darkness’ (photo around 1989) because its quantities were never managed by expert know- on building structures, context-specific issues (such as site ledge of orderly planning, hygiene and safety’ . and local climate, regional architectural traditions and typ- Good urban design always ensures sufficient daylight for ologies, context, local building materials, etc.), solar energy, residents and efficient natural ventilation of the spaces be- and the recycling and re-use of the existing building fabric. tween the buildings and rooms inside. This extreme ex- Some of today’s thinking around high-density precincts ample of hyper-density, an over-densified superblock, in China, Singapore or Sydney could translate to other could only develop in Hong Kong or in India with a cul- cities and inform new approaches to increasing inner-city ture of greed and powerful developers, where architecture density and reducing urban sprawl, while promoting a is reduced to commodity. But it was also a result of the sense of community. In the US and in Australia, change is building code: in the 1960s and 70s, the inner-city airport happening too: while many residents in suburbs simply Kai Tak caused a height limit to be set for buildings at 60 live too far away from their jobs, in the majority of North metres above principal datum for any development in American and Australian cities inner-city populations are Kowloon, which led to the typical Kowloon block: a very predicted to rise, especially on redeveloped brownfield compact hyper-dense block of 12- to 14-storey buildings. and urban renewal sites, as people want to live closer to Very dense and intense high-rise cities tend to be the city centre and in the inner suburbs, to reduce their overcrowded and are not the best option. While the need to commute or look after a large garden. Walled City was a functioning tight-knit urban commu- When you are densifying an area that is already dense, nity (and a hotbed for crime), it was not sustainable and there is a question as to whether the existing infrastructure the negative impacts of too much density slowly made can cope. One other challenge cities face in their densifica- its residents sick. tion strategies is a reluctant public and resistance from res- idents against higher densities, as illustrated by the case of The compact city revisited: recent ‘superblock’ Vancouver’s protesting neighbourhood groups. If done housing experiments in Singapore, Sydney and well, higher density does not necessarily decrease liveability Vancouver (as can be seen in cities such as Singapore, Barcelona and The following section describes the selected cases: new London). Higher density living can be acceptable for resi- housing experiments in compact superblocks in Singapore, dents as long as these developments also provide for new Sydney and Vancouver that have introduced higher dens- treed parks and urban greenery; but a well-used park a ity, each in their own way. drive away cannot be a substitute for new green space . Sustainable urban design can include ‘high-tech’ design High-quality urban design can alleviate negative percep- solutions as well as ‘low-tech’ alternatives. The functional tions of density at the metropolitan scale. Higher densities and organizational aspects of sustainable urban design focus require new better housing typologies, a wider range of Lehmann Future Cities and Environment (2016) 2:8 Page 6 of 13 compact housing models and innovative design solutions intertwined ‘vertical village’ where the apartment blocks that integrate urban greenery and high-quality public are stacked in a hexagonal arrangement around eight space. Landscaping, green roofs and the design of com- courtyards, creating the impression of open space and munity spaces must be important elements from the out- fluidity. One could say that the Interlace introduces a set of each development (, 708–719). new typology that could mark the end of generic tower The following selected cases deserve a closer look, be- blocks in Singapore. The large-scale complex also pro- cause they have successfully introduced denser housing vides a more interconnected approach to living through models and tested innovative typologies for urban pre- communal spaces which are integrated into its lush sur- cincts, where buildings and urban greenery, and public rounding garden (by introducing extensive roof gardens, and private spaces, have been combined and intertwined: landscaped sky terraces, cascading balconies and lush green areas). the Interlace and Pinnacle housing developments in Thirty-one apartment blocks, each six storeys tall and Singapore’s west, identical in length, are stacked on the eight-hectare site the Central Park development in Sydney, in a hexagonal arrangement to form eight large open the False Creek development in Vancouver. and permeable courtyards: the stacked formation allows light and air to flow through the ensemble and surround- These cases are compact and spatially complex models, ing landscape. While from the point of view of shared featuring medium- to high-density housing typologies, communal space it is much better than a tower, the disad- with a fine grain of diversity and complexity, creating a vantage is that quite a few of the apartments are always ‘vertical city’ and matrix of horizontally stacked urbanism under the shadow of the block directly on top. that incorporates communal courtyards and double-height The Interlace covers 170,000 sqm of gross floor area balcony spaces. and houses 1040 apartment units of varying size, accom- modating over 2500 people. The continuous landscape is also projected vertically, from the planting of green areas The Pinnacle and the Interlace in Singapore in open-air basement voids, through balconies and roof- The citystateofSingaporehas atropical, humid climateall top gardens. The private balconies give apartments large year round, which makes ventilation and cross-ventilation outdoor spaces and personal planting areas that look like the most important aspects of environmental comfort. The cascading gardens, and sky gardens provide panoramic urban design principles that apply to cities in tropical views. The design also incorporates sustainability fea- conditions are different from these in temperate conditions. tures through careful environmental analysis of the sun An effectiveway is to combineactiveand passivesystems path, wind direction and microclimate conditions on site to radically improve the environmental performance of and the integration of low-impact passive energy strat- buildings. Passive systems include building orientation, egies. Water bodies have been strategically placed within compact geometry (a reduced façade area reduces the solar wind corridors as a means of allowing evaporative cool- heat gain), strategic positioning and sizing of windows for ing to happen along the wind paths, reducing local air maximum cross-ventilation, thermally activated concrete temperatures and improving thermal comfort in out- slabs for cooling, effective shading, high wall insulation, door recreation spaces. (More information is available green roofs and the integration of urban greenery. at http://www.theinterlace.com/.) (Figs. 2a, b; 3a, b) After the success of the Pinnacle at Duxton (the world’s highest public housing complex), the government-directed The Central Park development in Sydney, Australia Housing Development Board (HDB) decided to go one step Sydney’s Central Park is a major mixed-use urban renewal further and experiment with an even more radical housing project located on Broadway in Sydney’s centre, very close development. The Interlace is one of the largest and most to Central Station. Building heights range from 8 storeys ambitious residential developments in Singapore, and it to 35 storeys. The development is focused on a new public presents an approach to contemporary living in a tropical park located just off Broadway of approximately 6500 environment by adopting a new residential typology which square metres (70,000 sq ft) in size. The first stage of the breaks away from the standard vertical HDB tower blocks redevelopment (completed in 2013) is a tower called One of Singapore. The Pinnacle is the world’s highest public Central Park, a 117-metre-tall residential tower featuring housing complex, consisting of 7 blocks, each 50 storeys ‘vertical gardens’ and a shopping centre in its podium on high and connected by sky gardens and bridges on the 25th the lower levels. The design features a cantilevered section and 50th floor. The roof garden is an expansive area with including a heliostat to provide reflected sunlight to the recreational facilities for residents. parkland and roof garden below. The precinct has a popu- Up to now, most housing in Singapore has been in lation density of around 1000 people per hectare. (More unsightly generic tower blocks, but the Interlace is an Lehmann Future Cities and Environment (2016) 2:8 Page 7 of 13 Fig. 2 a and b: The housing development Interlace, in western Singapore. This superblock project houses around 2500 people Fig. 3 a and b: The earlier housing development the Pinnacle, at (Source: the architects, 2015) Duxton in Singapore’s west, forming a massive ‘wall’.(Source: the architects, 2015) information is available at www.centralparksydney.com.) (Fig. 4a, b). in density spread over a decade. False Creek South was once a conscious experiment in neighbourhood-scale The False Creek development in Vancouver, Canada urban design, since studied and applauded by planners The Canadian city of Vancouver has a long-established and architects from around the world. Just like in Sydney, reputation as an urban laboratory for successful experi- as the entire city wrestles with high-value waterfront real ments in density, downtown living and a strong neighbour- estate, skyrocketing housing costs and development pres- hood community spirit. Vancouver’s urban transformation sures, False Creek has been getting densified, and it has and density debate over the last two decades has led to been able to absorb some additional density and accom- some much celebrated medium-density neighbourhoods in modate some growth without losing the character of its waterfront locations. Southeast False Creek was developed neighbourhood. For instance, False Creek became the on a brownfield site and has often been criticized for its location of the athlete housing as part of the 2010 unaffordable housing prices and ‘green overcrowding’ Olympic Village. (density without amenity). Nevertheless, this development The City of Vancouver has plans to see this liveable and the wider urban renewal of Vancouver have been a neighbourhood further developed into a medium- to success story: in the past 15 years, 60,000 people have high-density residential area with housing and services for moved to the city’s downtown peninsula in medium- to 11,000–13,000 people. The early parts of the development high-density developments; and today, over 40 per cent of that date back to the 1970s resulted in a medium-density dwellings in Vancouver are apartments (this is approxi- area with a variety of architectural designs, ownership mately double the percentage in Sydney). opportunities, recreational activities, and access to modes Since its founding in the 1970s, False Creek South’s of transportation. The original precinct has a modest residents have quietly enjoyed its view of the changing sky- population density of around 120 people per hectare. Bike line of downtown Vancouver, with incremental increases paths, parks, unique three-storey homes, a public market Lehmann Future Cities and Environment (2016) 2:8 Page 8 of 13 With a population density of over 5 400 people per square kilometre, Vancouver is the most densely popu- lated Canadian municipality, and the fourth most densely populated city in North America, behind New York City, San Francisco and Mexico City. Urban planner Wendy Sarkissian  is more critical of Vancouver’s ‘EcoDensity’ policy and argues that strong community concerns and established policies of commu- nity engagement were simply ignored by the City Council in the move towards implementation of its top-down EcoDensity Charter. The EcoDensity policy was widely unpopular, and Sarkissian adds that the Laneway Housing initiative, which predated the EcoDensity policy (and which was much more about gentle small-scale densifica- tion), failed to deliver a significant increase in density. She argues that the real reasons for EcoDensity were pro- developer and ideological. However, it did not provide affordable housing as promised, and instead drove housing prices up further, enabled more large-scale types of deve- lopments and served developers’ interests (Figs. 5a, b; 6). Discussion: a proposed framework and recommendations for “quality density” The different cases reveal different planning approaches Fig. 4 a and b: The new Central Park development in Sydney, a and offer some pointers worth consideration. While the high-density inner-city mixed-use development close to the Central development process of compact urban form to some railway station and in walking distance to three universities (completed extent emulates higher densities, the reviewed case studies in 2014). This is one of Sydney’s new high-rise precincts with a show a significant inward investment in housing and the population density of 1 000 people per hectare. (Source: Frasers Property, 2015) property market. In all selected cities a booming property market has so far inhibited the realization of optimal density and urban form, and urban planners have so far and the intentional preservation of mountain views distin- not been able to assert their authority over investors. guish this area of False Creek as one of the earliest Singapore comes the closest to this goal and has followed conscious attempts to create a liveable medium-density a top-down approach to involve multiple design and environment, rather than focusing on high-rise efficiency development companies to create urban diversity with a and profitability. However, more recently, the scale has variety of typologies; while in Hong Kong, the uniformity shifted to 6- to 10-storey apartment buildings, and even to of the overall scale and high-rise apartment tower 20-storey towers, all located in walking distance to the typology still remains; while in Sydney, multi-actor parti- downtown area. cipation is only served through designing individual build- In a recent conversation with the author, Vancouver’s ings and the outcome is more piecemeal, with high former city planner Brent Toderian commented on the density and low density neighbourhoods next to each urban transformation, noting: other. Here, the higher costs in large scale development projects seems to contribute to a less diverse mix of socio- For the last decades the environmental movement economical demographics more likely to lead to gentrifi- rejected cities and focused on pastoral areas. cation. Singapore and Hong Kong both apply a top-down The truth is there is nothing greener than density planning hierarchy, where planning decisions are a result if you do it well, because it diminishes the pressure of Government’s strict development controls. on agricultural land, it significantly reduces the Vancouver has been successful in its participatory cost of growth in a sprawl pattern, and it improves process, community engagement and a more careful, everything from our climate footprint to our incremental increase of density stretched over several health, which has huge economic implications. decades. In large scale development projects, Vancouver Doing density well is as much about providing and Sydney enjoy a planning approach based on acti- privacy as it is about civic life. Density brings vities that are more decentralized to multiple actors, for people together. example in brown-field regeneration or urban infill Lehmann Future Cities and Environment (2016) 2:8 Page 9 of 13 developments such as False Creek or Barangaroo South. Until the 1980s, both cities were predominantly low rise suburban sprawl, but since then have transformed with a denser built form. Vancouver has managed to implement a good mix between high-rise and perimeter block devel- opments, not just high-rise towers. It is also the city with most green space per resident (around 30sqm) compared to the other cases, offering a high quality of life. As apartments, townhouses and units are becoming more important and a common tool for urban infill and the ‘making’ of density, the challenge for cities is to rein in housing often targeted at investors that is cramped, dark and uncomfortable for residents, and does little to create active streetscapes. For instance, Sydney and Melbourne are now building more apartment towers than ever, but there has so far been insufficient innovation by developers to make high-quality housing. These new residential towers are not done as well as they could, and the drive for yield has often been limiting innovation and experiments; we are still missing good cosmopolitan examples of infill through high-rise residential towers. Most of the recently built inner-city apartment towers rely fully on air-conditioning, rather than natural cross- ventilation, have windowless corridors, and small cramped and dark rooms; they frequently lack private outside space like balconies, and have miserably scaled windows . These towers do not give anything back to the street nor do they give anything to the residents inside. We are still not seeing much innovation in density design. To minimize adverse negative effects from increased densities, densification strategies should be coupled with Fig. 5 a and b: The development around False Creek in Vancouver, high-quality urban design strategies and real community British Columbia, has resulted in a compact neighbourhood with a mix participation, to combat such unwanted effects as in- of densities, from mid-rise 3-storey buildings; however, more recently, the scale has shifted to 10- to 20-storey apartment buildings. (Source: creased traffic congestion, overshading and loss of daylight photos by Daniel Lobo) or privacy. Planners and architects need a better under- standing of the impact of their design decisions on the overall performance of the precinct system. They also must understand the importance of urban greenery in the Fig. 6 Different ways that 75 dwellings per hectare can be realized, from rows of terrace houses (left), to a perimeter block (centre), or a single high-rise tower (right). Planners and architects need a better understanding of the impact of their design decisions on the overall performance of the urban precinct system Lehmann Future Cities and Environment (2016) 2:8 Page 10 of 13 densified areas. Today, planners and architects can easily infill through 4- to 8-storey projects: the mixed-use visualize and simulate the benefits of various density types vibrant compact city to inform policies and decision making. more innovative design solutions need to be From the presented examples it is clear that urban den- developed to ensure there is no negative impact on sities must remain within a sustainable range. If density is neighbouring sites from densification, such as loss too low, it must be allowed to increase, and if it is too of privacy (overlooking), loss of ventilation or loss high, it must be allowed to decline, to arrive at an appro- of daylight (overshading): the city of innovative priate ‘quality density’. However, most of the time, den- housing solutions. sities are too low in cities around the world and declining, and there is now a concern shared by urban experts The developments described in Singapore, Sydney and worldwide: a concern about declining urban densities in Vancouver have enabled residents to live closer to their cities globally, exacerbating urban challenges such as workplaces; the superblocks are like massive urban in- sprawl and traffic congestion. fill projects or ‘vertical villages’. Such intensification While every city is different, some guiding principles of through infill at appropriate density is a sustainable de- ideal development with quality density have been identi- sign strategy, as it avoids and counteracts the further fied. These include increasing compactness and the inte- dispersion and fragmentation of activity centres and gration of public transport, greenery and mixed usage. helps to reduce car dependency. Policy makers have now to take decisive, forward-looking Extreme increases in density can directly influence and steps in urban planning and decision making on density negatively impact the urban microclimate, as a denser city to create room for long-term physical development is likely to increase the urban heat island effect . towards a sustainable city. Groups of buildings that form precincts are of great inter- In The Principles of Green Urbanism (2010) I identi- est, as these can support the public realm, with a density fied and recommended the following guiding principles of mixed functions, and connect with each other. In all of ideal development: this, the interplay between density and urban heat islands must be well understood. visionary leadership to shape growth, not driven by Therefore very dense high-rise cities are not necessarily short-term market forces; the best option; medium-density, compact infill develop- a reasonable increase in urban compactness with a ments of 4- to 8-storey perimeter blocks are the much focus on walkability; preferred option and a very useful model towards achiev- efficient integration of transport, energy and cooling ing the compact, green, mixed-use and walkable city. The systems; perimeter block combines a number of benefits, such as: implementing integrated land-use, transport, energy, water and waste planning; smaller building envelopes (good ratio between the re-engineering infrastructure, retrofitting the area of the facade and the enclosed volume), using existing city and gentle densification; less land and reducing heat gain in summer; and balancing compact city development at denser heat loss in winter; transport nodes with new public green spaces; less material used, therefore lower construction knowledge sharing of best practice and training impact and reduced embodied energy; programs. reduced energy consumption due to shared walls, circulation and roofs. Based on this early list, a number of components can be identified as prerequisites for appropriate quality With a clear focus on the public domain and its con- density of a compact city: nectivity (walking, cycling, light rail), safe biking, with good landscaping and cycle paths, new high-quality a strong alignment of land use and mobility: the public space becomes part of the larger network of inter- efficient public transport city connected public spaces, accommodating thematic gar- connectivity, proximity and ‘nearness’ to amenities dens, pavilions and the possibility of integrating various and facilities within walking distance: the walkable community functions. city While densification can be a tough discussion and to keep cities cool, the integration of urban greenery needs to involve the community, no city can have a and green roofs needs to go hand-in-hand with serious debate about being greener, more economically densification: the green city resilient and sustainable without talking about density high-quality architectural and urban design with and developing appropriate densification solutions. Both more diversity and better examples of residential the skill and urban imagination of architects/planners Lehmann Future Cities and Environment (2016) 2:8 Page 11 of 13 and the experiences and concerns of the public/commu- densities should preferably be closer to 100 to 120 dwell- nity must be taken into account. Their coming together ings per hectare, especially along transport corridors, to to agree on urban densities involves some friction, but it support the integration of public transport, walking and is worth the effort because it is this encounter and learn- cycling to key facilities, and on-site energy generation. ing from each other’s perspectives that makes urban development worth having. Conclusions This article set out to answer the question: Since density Learning to live in more compact and denser is key to sustainable urbanism, what are the drivers and communities different planning approaches in relation to establishing While urban density is extremely relevant, it is of course not an optimal density? The author has shown how different the only determining factor for urban form. In fact, urban planning approaches and urban form influences very developments are rarely purely the result of design consider- different density outcomes. ations; rather they are shaped by economic forces, the This article has discussed how different parameters, such evolution of policies, and a range of invisible forces such as as density, building scale and public space connectivity can land-use regulations, codes for floor space ratios and eco- drive the outcomes of large-scale developments; however, nomic power structures. Long-term trends in economies, these parameters will need to be studied more in-depth and energy supply and demand, geopolitical shifts and social more research is needed, with consideration of the local con- change are all additional drivers of urban development. text, for a better understanding of the optimal density levels. Since there is always a multiplicity of complex forces But it is the incremental development approach stretched and flows that form a city, the forces that are shaping the over a longer period, as used in Vancouver, which appears to city are not limited to the physical spectrum only ; offer a promising alternative for optimizing density and today, they also include technologies – smart-city sensors mixed use, as seen with the False Creek development . and ubiquitous networks – so the architect or planner, As this article has indicated, there is definitely a limit to once the agent of change within cities, is now being density. Quality city living in a high-density context means replaced by the network engineer or urban strategist that there is a need to balance density increases with more [10, 11] has explored the impact of the information and green space and to ensure that natural ventilation remains network society and how political or technological move- open through protected urban air corridors. Singapore, for ments straddle urban space; he explains that our cities are instance, has become denser and (at the same time) more shaped by constant negotiation and conflict between green, creating interesting new public spaces and commu- different forces, basically the dominant one and grassroots nity gardens (while Gardens by the Bay in Singapore is only movements in reaction to it. There are the many invisible a ‘quasi’ public space that is surveyed and highly controlled forces that shape our urban spaces and their operating by security companies) (Figs. 7a, b). There are numerous system, such as the hidden geographies, logistics and socio-economic issues related to high-density cities, high- digital information flows of globalization, optic fibre density living and public space. The fact is that designing networks, mobile phones and economic flows – all shape for high-density living is not a straightforward planning immaterial infrastructures which continuously influence process, but requires careful consideration and an incre- the production of contemporary space . mental process. In every case, the main question in the But how dense we plan our cities determines how optimization process must be: What is the optimal and efficiently we use vital resources and it directly impacts on appropriate density for this place, neighbourhood or city? the quality of life of urban citizens. Growth boundaries are Too much density, such as in the Kowloon Walled City an effective tool to contain the footprint of cities, com- example, can be detrimental to a healthy lifestyle and bined with infilling in already built-up areas to avoid well-being. It is essential to simulate different densities for urban sprawl, as cities cannot continue to expand their developments early in the planning stage, to better judge boundaries as their population increases. For a long time, the impact of the varying density types, using 3-D model- the high infrastructure costs and inefficiencies caused by ling and visualisation. It is also helpful to categorize the urban sprawl have somehow been accepted on the wrong various densities in cities, so people can visit real neigh- assumption that sprawl would provide affordable housing. bourhoods and better understand and experience how Now city managers will need to increase the suburbs’ each density type feels [4, 70]. Therefore, these learning densities and transform outdated urban values towards points are offered as conclusions: the acceptance of higher densities and public transport. Density types can vary widely, from 1000 to 5000 As an important benchmark for minimum densities of to 10,000 people per sqkm, and we need to better new sustainable developments, the literature gives the fig- visualise these different densities to show the ure of minimum 70+ dwellings (homes) per hectare [17, multi-faceted nature of density. 30, 36, 52]. The case studies in this article have shown that Lehmann Future Cities and Environment (2016) 2:8 Page 12 of 13 The medium-rise compact city based on the European perimeter block offers a good starting point for a mixture of densities in different neighbourhoods. Can we develop new urban perimeter block typologies that combine the best of suburbia (sun, air, views, and even soil/greenery on roof gardens) with the best of urbanism (population dens- ity and programmatic diversity, mixed-use amenities and social interaction)? As the case studies show, new compact urban blocks are the next evolutionary step in the perim- eter block typology, to create better options for inner-city living and working. If done well, higher density does not have to come at the price of loss of privacy or liveability. Arguing for a new ethics of the urban, we can say that the traditional urbanism of the European city’s perimeter block (such as in Barcelona, Paris, Berlin and Athens) is also ecological urbanism . Urban density should be embraced more strategically as the answer to a number of problems with today’s urban developments. Acknowledgement The author wishes to gratefully acknowledge the various reference resources benefitted for preparing this review paper; the valuable suggestions of the anonymous reviewers in improving the quality of the manuscript are greatly appreciated. Funding Financial support for the research was received from the Cluster for Sustainable Fig. 7 a and b: Sydney’s Barangaroo South is a brownfield Cities at the University of Portsmouth. development of a former dockyard. Gardens by the Bay in Singapore is a new entertainment concept for a botanical garden developed Competing interests on man-made waterfront land. (Sources: open commons) The author declares that he has no competing interests. Received: 30 June 2016 Accepted: 29 July 2016 We should encourage a variety of density and References housing types in different locations to allow the 1. Alexander C, Neis H, Anninou A, King I (1987) A New Theory of Urban city to consist of distinctive neighbourhoods with Design. 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