Is Density a 'Good Thing'?

High-density, or ‘Smart Growth,’ is touted by some urban planners as the answer to environmental, economic, transportation, and social problems facing urban areas. The high-density concept is not new; it has been underway for almost 50 years.  It has been observed, critiqued, and studied for measures of impact and sustainability, and the question of its advantage is highly controversial. 


Density alone does not translate into economic revitalization and job growth. High density living is associated with higher rates of mental illness, children’s health issues, respiratory illness, heart attacks, cancer, and decreased levels of human happiness. High density housing reduces the availability of sunlight and airflow.  These are life-sustaining attributes that are vitally important in the prevention of infectious disease. 


The Centers for Disease Control and the National Institutes of Health raise concern about the pandemic spread of disease in densely populated urban areas.  Most disturbing is the association of high density housing with increases in violent crime.


The City of Saint Paul is attempting to achieve high-density by rezoning to Traditional Neighborhood Zoning or TN zoning.  There is nothing “traditional” about the outcome of TN zoning.


TN zoning reduces or eliminates building set-back requirements, extends height limits, and allows greater numbers of housing units to be built on smaller pieces of property.  There is very little, if any, provision for trees and green space even though these are environmental necessities for the absorption of CO2 emissions, absorption of storm water runoff, and reduction of the impact of extreme temperatures associated with global warming and the heat island effect of high density urban areas. 


The dimensional standards of TN zoning are loosely defined, giving full advantage to developers to build huge structures that maximize their profits.  TN zoning may also be advantageous to property owners who can up zone their property to increase its value, giving no consideration to the impact on surrounding neighborhoods. 


Unfortunately, TN zoning comes at a huge disadvantage to existing residential neighborhoods. Adjacent neighborhoods are adversely impacted by a decline in property values, increases in noise, traffic congestion, overcrowding of population, pedestrian safety concerns, and reduced livability and quality of life.


1.  7 Reasons Why High-rises Kill Livability

2.Indiana University study on crime rate and high density units.


3.  Impact of high-density living on physical health, mental health, and happiness:


4.  Implications pertaining to the pandemic spread of infectious disease in light of antibiotic resistance, global travel, and high density urban areas:


5.  Lack of economic expansion to support an endless supply of new apartments: