Research summary: How to increase densities in cities

A new research paper says a long-term vision and robust leadership are key ingredients for increasing densities in cities, Susie Sell reports.

Report: Birmingham has developed a long-term plan for increasing density [Pic credit: Bs0u10e0 via Flickr]
Report: Birmingham has developed a long-term plan for increasing density [Pic credit: Bs0u10e0 via Flickr]

A new report by research and education organisation the Urban Land Institute and investment management company TH Real Estate looks at how to increase density in cities. Based on a study on six European cities, the report sets key ingredients for successfully boosting urban densities. A selection is included here.

Set out a long-term plan
According to the report, city development plans are key to rolling out densification initiatives at scale. Long-term plans that span 20 to 30 years can provide a compelling vision and help steer development, it adds. The report highlights the example of Birmingham’s Big City Plan, which outlined the need for high-quality developments at density. On the contrary, it says a lack of a comprehensive spatial plan in Warsaw, Poland, has led to unplanned neighbourhoods and piecemeal development that lacks consistency.  

Robust leadership is key
Strong leadership can help ensure residents support planned changes to urban densities, the report suggests, and ensure ideas are turned into reality. A long-term outlook can ensure a consistent approach when density initiatives are progressed, and transparency when decisions are made, which can help bolster citizens’ support for change, the report says.

Tell the story of why densification is needed
A new narrative is needed around density, with densification often suffering from a perception problem, the report suggests. It adds that it is important to communicate the role density plays in successful developments and neighbourhoods. The terms "efficiency" or "convenience" can be useful to convey the benefits that density can bring to travel times, it says. Meanwhile, words like "smart" or "intelligent" can help convey the environmental benefits of densification, the report adds.

One size doesn’t fit all
According to the report, it is important that cities use a variety of approaches to increase density. It says depending on one strategy, such as only increasing densities on brownfield sites or in the city centre, can compromise variation, and cause areas to lose their distinctiveness. Instead, it is important to take a more varied approach, promoting a range of initiatives, such as retrofit projects, land reclamation or intensification of developments surrounding transport hubs, it says.

The Density Dividend: solutions for growing and shrinking cities can be found here. 

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