Monday, August 29, 2005

Not strictly *about* Philly, but relevant

rowhousesAmidst all the discussions about how to encourage but direct/control development of city neighborhoods, one thing often goes unspoken: that the low-rise "character" of Philadelphia, with its row-houses of 2-4 stories, represents a long-term constraint on growth and modernization of the city as a whole. All the more reason for the city to make some central plans about neighborhoods to protect, regions where taller buildings would fit in better, areas needing complete redesign, and the like.

Anyway, was made to think of these issues while reading this Harvard news article, which reports that experts think that density is critical to urban vitality.
If not enough people want to shop or eat out, there won't be many good stores or restaurants. If the audience for music, theater, or art is small, these activities will not flourish. If the tax base is scanty, schools and municipal services will be substandard. Even parks need people to use them, and if the parks are deserted, they will not receive the upkeep they need to remain attractive.

Density is also considered good for the environment because it is easier and cheaper to provide heating, electricity, sewerage, and other services to people living in concentrated groups than to those in single-family homes in suburban areas. As a result, the impact of dense populations on the surrounding environment is less harmful.
Thinking like that should certainly give pause to anybody who wishes that everything downtown were office space, or who wails against the first highrise housing to challenge the skyline. Interesting stuff.

(via kottke)


Blogger rzklkng said...

Think about the difference between "the city that never sleeps" and Philly. People live downtown, so there are businesses there to cater to them, mass transit to move them, and green space for recreation, all within walking, biking, subwaying, or taxi distance. The same features in a "bedroom community" necessitate cars.

8:44 AM  
Blogger ACM said...

I guess I don't understand your point. I live in downtown Philly, with masses of other people, groceries and all other necessary businesses within walking distance, I commute by subway, and there are several major parks in my area. How does this distinguish Philly from New York?

The latter is much more dense, of course, so all those things are available in higher quantity and more variety, but I don't think that's a qualitative difference. Both cities have suburbs whose residents visit and leave; both have city folk who counter-commute to the suburbs but prefer to live where things are happening. Again, no qualitative difference.

I suspect that as the city continues to become more popular and more populous, some of the other differences will subside a bit too . . .

9:04 AM  
Blogger Friedman said...

Philadelphia has the 3rd most populous downtown in America, after New York and Chicago.

11:36 AM  

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