chapter  23
12 Pages

Density and sustainability: strange bedfellows?


As populations in cities continue to swell globally, discussion about where these citizens might live, work and play becomes vitally important. While the debate around building up or out in cities to accommodate residents is not new, people’s understandings of increasing urban density and what it means for the design of the built environment is often misinformed and lacks nuance. When sustainability considerations enter into the conversation, the reactions and resultant decisions being made by city leaders can be even more confusing, as the reasons for increasing densities can conflict with one or more of the social, environmental and economic pillars of sustainability. In this chapter, the authors begin by referring to descriptions for density and sustainability and highlighting some of the issues in trying to develop a widely used definition. The notions of ‘good’ density and sustainability as universal truths also are challenged. Through original survey research, the authors then demonstrate that people both do not know enough about densities in cities and are not receiving coherent messages about increasing densities sustainably. The authors conclude by contemplating what designers, planners and policy-makers need to do to ensure that cities can be sustainable in terms of density.