Jane Jacobs Missed the Mark on Density

Jane Jacobs is probably the most well-regarded writer on urban issues in American history. But, as economist Edward L. Glaeser argues, her stance on urban density is a little bit off-target.
May 5, 2010, 12pm PDT | Nate Berg
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Glaeser writes, "I don't have anything against Greenwich Village or six-story buildings, but the perspective of the economist pushes strongly against any attempt to postulate or, far worse, regulate a single perfect density.

Indeed, to anyone who respects consumer sovereignty, there is something a little jarring about Jacobs's question: 'What is the proper density for city dwellings?'

Why in the world should there be a 'proper density'? A good case can be made that cities succeed by offering a diverse menu of neighborhoods that cater to a wide range of tastes. Some people love Greenwich Village, and that's great, but I was perfectly happy growing up in a 25-story tower, and I don't see anything wrong with that, either."

Keeping density low causes a reduced supply, and that will basically drive prices up and limit those low-density areas to only the most affluent or prosperous people, according to Glaeser. He says cities need a variety of densities, including high densities.

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Published on Tuesday, May 4, 2010 in The New York Times
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