Is L.A. More Crowded Than New York?

In "L.A. the King of Sprawl, Not at All," Robert Bruegmann reports that Los Angeles is one of the densest areas in the country. His article reinforces the notion that L.A. is already a very dense place, but is it true?

Three UCLA students investigate the issue, and find:

"While it is true that the urbanized area of Los Angeles has a higher population density than the urbanized area of Los Angeles, our analysis shows that the City of Los Angeles is much less dense than the City of New York. The analysis presented here aids in dismantling the perception that Los Angeles’ density exceeds that of New York and should be the reason for limiting development in the City of Los Angeles. It is disingenuous to compare density figures by "urbanized area," as doing so lacks the necessary apples-toapples comparison quality. Instead, we argue that discussions about density should focus on more reasonably defined urban areas, such as proper city limit boundaries as presented in this paper.

Thanks to Livable Places Email Newsletter

Full Story: Is L.A. More Crowded Than New York?



er...sort of.

I think this report and presentation sort of miss the point. Although I do think that using sheer population density to suggest that LA may be less sprawling than New York is misleading on the part of Bruegmann, I don't think that just comparing the density within city boundaries only is a valid refutation due to the geographical and structural differences between eastern and western cities, and the fact that the author indeed intended to compare urbanized regions, not just central cities. Urbanized areas are not, as the authors of this presentation imply, some vague abstraction used for statistical trickery but very real, very tangible, and very useful boundaries of the 'built-up' area of a city and its suburbs. Here's what I think better refutes Bruegmann:

Population density as a measure of sprawl works, up to a point. What it doesn't measure is the degree to which land uses are separated, the degree of clustering, the degree of centrality of a particular area, connectivity of the street grid, and other measurable traits that determine whether a place is built in a conventional automobile-oriented way, or if it subscribes to emerging best practices in planning. A 5-squre mile walled housing subdivision with 6 houses per acre, access via a single six-lane arterial road with no transit or shopping for several miles in any direction in Southern California will indeed show up as being of 'higher density' than, say, a town in Central New Jersey with one-acre zoning, but walking distance to shops and a train station. Of these two, which one would you consider "sprawl?"


Of these two, which one would you consider "sprawl?"

Both of them..

Brand new! Urban Grid City Collection

Each city has its own unique story. Commemorate where you came from or where you want to go.
Book cover of the Guide to Graduate Planning Programs 4th Edition

Thinking about Grad School?

The Planetizen Guide to Graduate Urban Planning Programs is the only comprehensive ranking and listing of graduate urban planning programs available.
Starting at $24.95
Book cover of Unsprawl

Unsprawl: Remixing Spaces as Places

Explore visionary, controversial and ultimately successful strategies for building people-centered places.
Starting at $12.95

Get the "Green Bible" of educational planning books

Understand the complexities of planning at the local level while preparing for the AICP* exam. Find out why this edition is included in the APA's recommended reading list.