On high density housing


High density housing often gets a bad reputation for unfair perceptions about increased traffic, crowded living and minimal parking but there are many advantages to this efficient use of land.

A developer presented a plan to the South Whitehall Township Commissioners on Wednesday night to build medium and high density housing along Blue Barn Road. The site to which he was referring is currently utilized by a single family home, a barn and open space. Nearby is a tract of land that was approved for a zoning change to accommodate medium to high density housing. The current zoning of the proposed development only allows for less than 4 units per acre; the new development would require 10 units per acre.

Attendees at the South Whitehall Township Board of Supervisors meeting voiced the usual concerns of increased traffic in more established neighborhoods, but the official vote on the zoning change won’t come until early September.

The Urban Vision has a compelling argument in favor of high density housing that outweighs arguments of increased traffic:

A high density and compact city form is the most ideal development pattern for the future. Here’s why:

Promotes thriving communities.

High density essentially signifies a concentration of people and their activities. A higher density neighborhood establishes a greater variety of leisure, shopping, amenities, work, and travel options. The wide cross -section of people and their activities also makes for a culturally rich area.

Better economically

According to studies, the expenditures of housing and transportation for inhabitants with a moderate standard of living in a compact city would be 25 percent less in comparison with a standard low density city. Compact City would cost 50 percent less for comparable housing and superior transportation for people with a high standard of living. In addition, the costs for structuring a Compact City are really a redirecting of investments by way of urban rejuvenation instead of a fresh expense. The cost of redevelopment versus the cost of additional building by way of newer colonies shows that it may be a better bargain to rejuvenate urban cores.

Further, studies indicate that auto and fuel expenses per person in a low density American neighborhood costs in the region of $500 per year. Also, in such an urban area with a population of two million, there are typically more than one million cars. Transportation costs in such a situation can run over one billion dollars a year. In a compact high density city, more than a million cars could be swapped with less than 10,000 cars. This would represent not only millions of dollars of fuels saving but also lesser pollution.

Compact, high density cities are also said to be more economical given that infrastructure, such as roads and street lighting, can be offered more cost-effectively per capita .Also ,urban sprawl brings about the repetition of hospitals, schools, and many other public services and institutions. Larger and more equitable distribution of services is possible in dense compact cities. The merging and amalgamation of a number of urban facilities and public amenities makes way for many specialized conveniences that are currently not cost-effectively achievable. These services are also far more economical in a compact city vis-à-vis a low density city.

Sustainability

High density cities are known to be proficient for more sustainable transport systems. A compact city has population densities that are great enough to operate and maintain public transport. Also, because compact cities essentially mean high density and mixed use- people can live near to their work place and leisure facilities. Therefore, the need for travel is less and people can walk and cycle without trouble. According to estimates, the overall energy use should go down by at least 15 percent in compact cities. Also, Compact cities are known to conserve land. By reducing sprawl which is characterized by incessantly growing urban areas; land in the countryside and forests are preserved

Social Equity and integration

High density cities will also promote a sense of social equity by providing opportunities for the economically underprivileged. Further, the only way to offer housing for all sections of the society is by pursuing high density planning strategies. In societal terms, compact cities and mixed uses are connected with diversity, social unity and cultural growth. There is also indication that more concentrated neighborhoods have a great sense of kinship, cooperative spirit and vivacity – fundamentally because a wide range of people with a different set of beliefs and vales are in closer contact with one other.

The social, economic and environmental should be seriously considered as this debate unfolds at the next meeting of the South Whitehall Township supervisors, but they may also consider the current rural state of this area. Higher density housing can be used to combat sprawl but isn’t the right choice for every municipality. As the Lehigh Valley population continues to increase, many people will rightfully want to see rural areas maintained in conjunction with the need for more housing. Open space and land for food production are also important needs for any community. We must also consider other sustainability practices and while this development would provide land efficient housing, South Whitehall will have to make a big decision regarding their open space, the proposed neighborhood’s access to transportation and other resources as well as their housing needs.

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Posted on August 23, 2013, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. There are many reasons why high-density housing makes sense – if it’s balanced with appropriate open space / parks. The advantages are obvious in an urban area, but it can also make sense in suburban & rural areas if it’s used to preserve open space [like the 90-10 zoning that was so controversial a few years ago]. Many of the advantages disappear if the area does not offer safe & convenient walking, biking, & public transit – or if people have to travel more than a mile or two to shop & work.

  2. South Whitehall Township doesn’t have Supervisors. It has Commissioners.

    I doubt you looked at the township’s zoning ordinance or comprehensive plan. How do you know what the developer is proposing is appropriate? You see a news article and assume that *it is* correct? Is there anything these people would walk to if high density housing was built there? A school nearby? Shopping? Nice park?

    (Answer is no to all of the above.) They’d be driving everywhere.

    This is what bugs me about your organization. You lack real-world experience and want to be part of the conversation yet don’t want to overcome the lack of experience by doing the homework and gathering the facts before making an educated opinion on a subject. You get away with it because few are watching or caring enough to be concerned about it.

  3. @Block Party,

    My apologies for the commissioners error.

    We agree that high density housing may not be the right choice for South Whitehall, and we certainly aren’t advocating for it. Here’s what the end of this post says:

    Higher density housing can be used to combat sprawl but isn’t the right choice for every municipality. As the Lehigh Valley population continues to increase, many people will rightfully want to see rural areas maintained in conjunction with the need for more housing. Open space and land for food production are also important needs for any community. We must also consider other sustainability practices and while this development would provide land efficient housing, South Whitehall will have to make a big decision regarding their open space, the proposed neighborhood’s access to transportation and other resources as well as their housing needs.

  4. Even in a suburban township where there are not schools, stores, work, and recreation within walking distance, it still makes sense to preserve large areas of open space whenever the development site is large enough. All it takes is to require developers to build reasonably high-density housing on about 10% of the land area and preserve 90% — not only is it environmentally preferable, the open space, if properly cared for, will dramatically increase the value of the residential properties!

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