Urban density–do you love it or hate it? Not many people seem to be in between. Many city planners promote high urban density because they think it is better for the environment and makes transit easier. Many developers like it because they can make higher profits by putting more units on a lot. Many residents like it because they can live so close to their jobs and to amenities like great restaurants and stores. Continue reading “Who’s afraid of a little density?”
Can buildings affect your feelings? Can your neighbourhood make you happy or sad? How about nervous or calm? Some people think that our environment has nothing to do with how we feel. Others think that our environments exert a strong influence over our perception and behavior. The theory that argues that buildings and neighbourhoods can affect us this way is known as architectural determinism. Continue reading “Why does my neighbourhood make me feel this way?”
Do you feel a strong sense of community in your neighbourhood?
Do you enjoy chatting with your neighbours?
Do you like your neighbourhood and hope to live there a long time?
In recent decades, Vancouver, like many large cities around the world, has experienced an increase in overall population, as well as dramatic increases in population densities in many areas. The effects of these increases on residents’ quality of life have not been comprehensively explored. Of particular interest to my research, are the effects, if any, of high-density environments on residents’ sense of community in their neighborhoods. Residents in Vancouver are under several housing-related pressures, including housing availability, proximity to employment, affordability, and limited housing options (limited ability to choose preferred building and neighborhood typologies). These limitations may affect some demographic groups more than others. For example, families with small children may be particularly susceptible to environments, such as high-rise buildings, that limit opportunities for semi-supervised outdoor play and peer interaction for their children. While dense urban environments may afford increased opportunities for engagement, they may also inhibit neighborhood relationship formation by limiting suitable common spaces where neighbors experience informal encounters. Such environments may thereby reduce residents’ sense of neighborhood community, possibly resulting in unwanted feelings of isolation. If dense urban environments do incur a lowered sense of neighborhood community, potential mitigating factors may include improved public space, presence of neighborhood associations, local events, homogeneity of the population, or other considerations.
This essay considers whether high residential density affects residents’ sense of neighborhood community. The answer to this question is important because it helps inform the larger issue of what effect the densifying of cities may have on quality of life for urban inhabitants. I provide critical considerations of compact city objectives, measures of density, concepts of community and sense of community, and the concept of physical determinism. Although there is a paucity of research listed in academic literature on the topic, I argue that indirect evidence suggests that high-density environments are probably detrimental to sense of community, and that the effects of these environments may be ameliorated with the provision of hard infrastructure, such as increased semi-public space that is conducive to informal interaction, and with soft infrastructure, such as neighborhood events and neighborhood associations. I end the essay with a consideration of what urban planners might do to maintain a sense of community in the compact city.