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10 reasons higher density living is good for communities

Alice Roberts
By Alice Roberts
3rd March 2022

In London, it is common to see relatively high density development but there is still huge pressure to build out into Green Belt and considerable opposition to densification, particularly in Outer London.

Though we need to be vigilant that high density development is planned with adequate green space and that appropriate infrastructure like schools and surgeries is provided, there are a host of reasons why higher density living is good for Londoners.

Nothing new: high density has been a historic feature of London housing

Higher density living has both social and environmental benefits and is attractive to many, particularly those who are don’t or can’t use a car (usually older people, young people and people on low incomes). And building at high density does not need to mean tower blocks and high rise: if done right, it can be attractive both to look at and to live in.

We promote ‘compact cities’ over low-density sprawl, and support the protection of our Green Belt, to save our countryside but also to ensure we do not consign Londoners to low-density, high-carbon, car-dependent housing which is not affordable and undermines efforts to reduce car-use to improve our health.

This blog is adapted from our 2019 report Double the density, halve the land needed.

10 reasons why higher density living is positive for communities

“… it is generally considered that the reduced cost of servicing and the efficient use of public transport begin to take effect at densities as low as … 62 dwellings per hectare.” [1] But the higher the density, the more benefits accrue, providing of course that the site is not isolated entirely from public transport, services and amenities.

  1. The higher the density, the more land is saved: space is used more efficiently.
  2. The higher the density, the bigger range of local shops and services that can be supported.
  3. Of most significance is the cost of personal transport which diminishes rapidly as density increases. [2] Better transport means better access to jobs, amenities, leisure, etc. At high densities fast, frequent, reliable public transport systems become fully effective with dramatic reductions in energy & costs.
  4. As density increases the per capita cost of providing services such as water, gas, electricity and waste disposal reduces.
  5. The cost of transporting materials and goods also declines. As the costs go down so does the consumption of energy.
  6. As density increases, isolation and social exclusion is reduced for people without a car.
  7. Density can also impact on affordability as the cost of land is lower per dwelling, and space is not needed for parking cars, for instance.
  8. Higher density creates more vitality and diversity. “Bigger concentrations of people stimulate and support the provision of more services and facilities making possible a wider choice of restaurants, theatres, cinemas and other recreational opportunities. They support specialist centres and services for minorities, which are not possible where such minorities are dispersed in low density sprawl. …
  9. “All this stimulates interdependent economic development that creates new employment opportunities and greater choice of employment.
  10. “Above all, in higher density urban areas, all this diversity is within easy reach of where most people live. Ease of access is a key factor, which has critical implications for a sustainable quality of urban life.” [3]

Despite these benefits, and despite the devastating impact of urban sprawl (low-density development) on our countryside and our environment, the majority of developments continue to be planned in unsustainable locations and at super-low-density. Read CPRE’s 2019 research, according to which the average density assumption on brownfield register sites in 2018 was 41 dwellings per hectare. Though this increased since the previous report, from 33dph it is still very low.

[1] and [3] The implications of housing density, Graham Towers, pp150-151

[2] At low densities people are dependent on private cars for personal transport. As density increases public transport becomes increasingly necessary and viable. More and more trips can also be made on foot or by bicycle eliminating fuel consumption and pollution altogether.

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