Town Planning Review 89.4 Featured Article

The editors of TPR have selected ‘Congested cities vs. sprawl makes you fat: unpacking the health effects of planning density’ by Ann Forsyth as the Featured Article for the latest issue.

It will be free to access for a limited time here

When asked to describe the paper, and highlight its importance, the author stated the following:

In recent years many planners have proposed increasing housing or population densities to promote health, building on similar arguments related to sustainability. They have promoted programs of metropolitan densification, to regulating maximum and minimum densities in greenfield locations, to urban infill incentives. Discussions about density levels and patterns have been at times vibrant and full of conflict; at other times the benefits or problems have been taken for granted.

Density has been of particular interest because, depending on the topic, different density levels and types appear to cause problems or create benefits, can typically be measured and compared with some precision, and are amenable to manipulation via the toolkit of urban and regional planning strategies.

Density, however, comes in multiple forms and intersects with a wide range of health issues making such debates complex. In many cases effects are mixed; high planning densities can be helpful, problematic, or unimportant got health depending on the type of density, health issue, and population. Density is often confused with closely related terms such as crowding or building height.

This paper clarifies the concept of density and distinguishes measured planning density from several closely related terms such as crowding, population ratios, and housing types. It conceptualizes how density relates to healthy environments generally. Exploring the case of design for frail seniors it shows that people can do well in different densities but for different health issues, different types and levels of densities may offer advantages. For example, lower building densities can help with air quality and higher population densities access to services.

Overall, density remains an important planning concept with relevance for both understanding and remaking places in the coming century.