Exhibition Aims to Change Minds About Density

"Everything You Think You Know About Housing Is Probably Wrong," reads the headline of this New York Times article.

February 5, 2020, 7:00 AM PST

By James Brasuell @CasualBrasuell


akoppo / Shutterstock

Michael Kimmelman, New York Times architecture critic, reviews a new show at the Skyscraper Museum in New York City with provocations about the level of understanding among the general public on the subject of housing policy and the housing market.

The show, called "Housing Density," is assessed by Kimmelman as both timely and thought-provoking, and likely to challenge assumptions about planning and cities.

However you calculate it, the word “density” sounds a lot like a synonym for overcrowding and congestion, for too-tall buildings and greedy real estate developers, unwanted neighbors and lost parking spaces. Such associations make the mere mention of the term a Molotov cocktail that opponents of housing initiatives can lob at community board meetings.

This is a big problem. To address the country’s monumental housing crisis and also become less automobile- and carbon-dependent, America needs to densify its job-rich metro areas so that more people can afford to live there and walk, bike and take public transit to get to work and back. According to a much-cited report by the McKinsey Global Institute, California is 3.5 million houses short. Housing shortages exacerbate home prices and homelessness and cause all sorts of other ripple effects on commute times, economic productivity, health and family life.

With plenty of anecdotes of recent controversy over the claims listed above, Kimmelman suggests that the new exhibition is an antidote to the prevailing wisdom among well-to-do NIMBYs and anti-development tenant activists. "Housing Density" points out misconceptions about density, according to Kimmelman, who supports the attempt to push the urban planning discussion in a more productive, healthier direction.

Tuesday, February 4, 2020 in The New York Times

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