January 28, 2004

Rappaport Institute for Greater Boston

The Rappaport Institute and the Boston Society of Architects convened a major conference to explore the different dimensions of density in urban planning and development. This conference focused on two separate discussions. The first discussion centered on planning and design issues relating to density. The second discussion concentrated on the public policy challenges relating to density.
For years, density has been a buzzword for all that ails urban America - overcrowding, trashy streets, traffic congestion, and inadequate room for recreation or community pursuits. The suburbanization of America in the twentieth century embodied an anti-urban ethos that favors spread-out development over clustered development. But with the emergence of concerns about regional sprawl, a movement involving planners, architects, community activists, and many businesses has emerged to challenge negative perceptions of density.

Increasingly, people understand that much that is vital about great cities depends on density - that is, people living close together, in communities with a mix of homes, retail outlets, offices and other places of employment, churches, community and recreation centers, libraries, transit, and parks. The argument for density is simple: The more people live in an area, the more that area can offer economic activity, social networks, political engagement, and public service.
But if this argument for density in urban areas is simple and compelling, creating conditions for agreeable dense development to occur in Boston and other urban communities is hard.