The Path to Hyperdensity

The federal government has an opportunity to make a generational investment in the country's infrastructure that could fundamentally shift the way we live and move around cities.

January 26, 2022, 8:00 AM PST

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction


Downtown Philadelphia

rlassman / Shutterstock

Thomas Day describes how, with a clear vision, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) could be an opportunity to invest in large-scale projects that shift development toward "hyperdense," transit-oriented cities. But while Robert Moses-style redevelopment on a large scale may no longer be possible, experts like Vishaan Chakrabarti, architect and professor at the University of California, Berkeley, argue that leaving too much power in the hands of competing local interests would squander a "generational opportunity" to redesign urban landscapes with a broad, unified vision.

According to Chakrabarti, the 1956 Federal Highway Act kindled a reassessment of how Americans live—a reassessment that could happen again with a similarly massive and directed infrastructure investment.

Ongoing debates over freeway removal or expansion proposals and rail projects indicate that policymakers and the public remain divided on what the future of transportation should be. But Chakrabarti believes that policymakers should move to aggressively encourage high-density development that would both ease the housing crisis and reduce carbon emissions and energy use.

Day suggests that in order to facilitate quicker and more assertive development of high-density, transit-oriented infrastructure projects, federal agencies should direct funding to projects that meet their goals and empower regional agencies to make decisions that balance local concerns and opposition with regional benefits.

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