More than 50 years ago, Jane Jacobs, author of The Death and Life of American Cities, changed how a generation of urban planners and other policy-makers think about cities. Planners like me willingly bought into her proposition that density is the key to nurturing the ideas and creativity necessary to create and sustain successful cities.
Jacobs may have shone a light on the benefits of developing dense neighbourhoods, but does her credo still stand up to scrutiny? The short answer is “yes,” but there needs to be some context.
After decades spent writing plans that promote density as a tool to curb sprawl, support transit and create walkable neighbourhoods, concerns about density raised by epidemiologists and other critics are leading planners to question whether we are on the right track. In a post-COVID environment, shaped by a preoccupation to keep physically distant from our neighbours, does it make sense to continue to prescribe and invest in high density concentrations of housing and places of employment like office buildings?