ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

Sustainability 10: Density

Updated on May 1, 2013
A green friend
A green friend

When most people envision a ‘green’ world, they picture high-tech energy-efficient homes in environmentally sensitive gardens. Conversely, when most imagine a ‘gray’ world, they visualize a gritty urban wasteland, perhaps similar to a crowded concrete canyon of Manhattan. In fact, that dense and hectic slice of New York City is probably far ‘greener’ and more sustainable than any idyll in a park can ever be — the answer lies in density.

Simply put, denser communities are almost always inherently greener and more sustainable than spreading, sprawling communities. Think of it as economy of scale in sustainability.

To illustrate, consider two examples: A) a conventionally-designed single-family detached home of 2,400 sf on a quarter-acre lot on a typical suburban residential street, housing a family of 3 in a partial-two-story Colonial-style structure, with a typical driveway, apron, walks, patio and deck, and B) a ten-story condo building of 85 dwelling units averaging about 1,950 sf each, housing families averaging 2.4 persons per dwelling unit in a high-rise structure occupying 80% of its quarter-acre site, with the remainder of the site landscaped, and with a roof garden covering half the structure’s roof.

• Population density: Using reasonable assumptions of required suburban roadways, collectors, parks, schools, etc., Example A, if extended across the countryside, will tend to max out at an overall population density of no more than about 4 persons per acre. Applying similar reasonable assumptions of required city streets and city amenities, Example B can achieve overall population densities of up to 250 persons per acre. Example B is thus far less wasteful in land use.

• Conditioned and maintained surface area: To comfortably heat and cool its occupants, Example A must insulate and condition a total exposed building surface area of over 1,700 sf per person. To achieve the same level of comfort, Example B must insulate and condition less than 350 sf of exposed building surface area per person. Example B is clearly cheaper to heat and cool and maintain.

• Required infrastructure: If Example A is repeated across a suburban landscape in the typical patterns prevalent today, each housed resident of the community may require as much as 35 feet of extension of such municipal facilities and services as access roadways, sidewalks, public utilities, mail service, road maintenance, trash collection, and police and fire services. If Example B is repeated across an urbanized landscape, each housed resident may require as little as a 0.5 foot extension of such municipal facilities and services. It is thus far easier and far cheaper for a municipality to provide essential facilities and services to Example B.

• Access to jobs, shopping, entertainment, and recreation: Assume for a moment that, to be viable, a firm or store or bowling alley or restaurant or cinema might require access to a market pool of either 1000, 5000, or 10000 workers or customers. Within what radius can an establishment reach such a market pool? With Example A, 1000 people would be available within a radius of about 3300 feet, or 5/8 mile; 5000 people would be available within a radius of about 1.4 miles; and 10,000 people would be available within a radius of about 2 miles. With Example B, the effective market radii shrink to about 420 feet for 1000 people, about 1300 feet or ¼ mile for 5000 people, and under 1,000 feet for 10,000 people. Obviously, Example A would thus require auto trips for even the simplest errands, while Example B could offer almost all amenities within a reasonable walking, biking or public transit distance.

• Green space: With a likely average of open green space of about 1,670 sf per occupant, Example A bests Example B, which might command only 60 sf per occupant. However, in most typical conditions, Example A would provide 70% or more of that green space as simply monoculture lawn to be watered, mowed, and fertilized — all practices that tend to contribute to fuel use, water use, fertilizer runoff, and water purification demand. Conversely, in most typical conditions, Example B would concentrate its green space with multiple diverse species, shade trees and decorative plantings, and may capture and manage rainfall. The density of Example B also frees up other land for open green space and recreational use by all.

In our striving for sustainability we must not shy away from increased density. In fact, increased density, wisely planned and artfully designed, may be our best path to sustainability.

Manhattan, New York, NY, USA

get directions


This website uses cookies

As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

Show Details
HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)