A Different View: Healthy Cities Don’t Fear Density


23 Nov, 2023

As cities grapple with housing affordability crises and the urgent need for sustainable development, the conversation around density takes centre stage. How we design and implement dense housing isn't just about providing shelter: it profoundly impacts our health, happiness, and social connections. The New Urban Crisis isn't solely about housing shortages: it's about reimagining urban spaces with more choice and flexibility for a thriving future.

The Province of British Columbia's recent announcement to set new housing targets for municipalities, including Vancouver, underscores the pressing need for more homes. However, building these homes isn't a one-size-fits-all solution. Simply stacking apartments won't guarantee healthier or happier communities. Instead, it's about leveraging density, both people and services, to create complete, walkable neighbourhoods that foster wellbeing.

Density alone doesn't determine a community's health. It's the synergy between density and thoughtful urban planning that holds the key. Research consistently shows that thriving communities are those where people can meet their daily needs without depending on cars. When density is combined with accessible services, transit, and green spaces, it lays the groundwork for communities where residents can walk to work, socialise, and engage with their surroundings.

The key takeaway is that density isn't the problem: it's the lack of thoughtful integration of services and amenities within denser areas that poses challenges. To truly unlock the benefits of density, cities must craft policies that expand housing choices rather than limit them. Diverse housing options, from multi-unit buildings to family-oriented neighbourhoods, are crucial for accommodating varied preferences and needs.

The design of these living spaces matters significantly. Multi-unit housing must cater to the diverse requirements of its residents, considering factors like age, culture, income, and abilities. Balconies that foster street-level interactions, shared local amenities, and wider spatial connections play a vital role in boosting social interactions within communities.

The path forward involves a comprehensive approach. Municipalities can incentivise developers to incorporate healthier and more social designs through guidelines and policies, as seen in the Active Design Guidelines adopted by the City of North Vancouver. Collaborations between organisations like Happy Cities and Hey Neighbour Collective further the cause by creating wellbeing guidelines for new developments.

As we tackle challenges like the New Urban Crisis, it's crucial to recognise that density, in and of itself, isn't the villain. Instead, it's about reimagining how we build and integrate these spaces into our lives. By combining density with thoughtful design and inclusive planning, we have an opportunity to shape vibrant, healthy, and connected communities for generations to come.