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Old Posted Jul 10, 2019, 3:59 PM
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What Micro-Mapping a City's Population Density Reveals

What Micro-Mapping a City's Density Reveals


JUL 9, 2019

By Garrett Dash Nelson

Read More: https://www.citylab.com/perspective/...graphy/591760/

Cities 200 Densest Square Kilometres: https://garrettdashnelson.github.io/square-density/

Quote:
Density is one of the most important urban characteristics. A high-density city like New York looks, feels, and functions differently than a low-density city like Des Moines. Yet the textures of density within a single city can be just as varied as average densities between cities. Pockets of intense concentration or islands of relatively thin settlement sometimes bear little resemblance to the overall density of an urban area.

- Since most people experience a city at the scale of a neighborhood or district, rather than the scale of metropolitan regions, paying attention to these fine-grained variations in urban form is more useful than broad-stroke statistics for understanding the everyday realities of population density. A new visualization I’ve put together helps picture these local patterns by examining density in American cities one square kilometer at a time. (Technically, these rectangles are 30 arc-second cells, which are roughly, but not exactly, one square kilometer.) This perspective lets us drill down to the micro-geography of density in American cities, with oftentimes surprising results.

- Most statistics that try to capture a single average measure, after all, tell us fairly little about spread or distribution. Consider economic indicators: If we know that the average income in a country is, say, $55,000, we don’t know anything about whether that country has a lot of middle-class earners or whether it’s polarized between extreme wealth and extreme poverty. — The same problem holds with density. Imagine one city where 50,000 people live in a 5-square-kilometer superblock of high-rises, surrounded by 20 square kilometers of parks, and another city where 50,000 people live in 25 square kilometers of low-density single-family homes. Both cities would have an average density of 2,000 people per square kilometer, but their actual morphologies could hardly be more different.

- Density statistics can be even more misleading than averages like income or age, because the divisor in the equation is a geographic unit that’s inevitably drawn with debatable boundaries. For instance, the Los Angeles metropolitan statistical area (MSA) contains hundreds of square miles of mountains in the San Gabriel National Forest where nobody lives so why shouldn’t the Boston MSA also include the hundreds of square miles of ocean in Boston Harbor where nobody lives? — The Minneapolis–Saint Paul urbanized area includes several large lakes and even a National Wildlife Refuge, so why shouldn’t the Miami urbanized area include some chunk of the Everglades?

- There’s no consistent principle about whether to include uninhabited water, mountains, and deserts when calculating density not to mention airport tarmacs, railroad classification yards, or central business districts with few residences. One alternative way of measuring density involves dividing space up into a regular pattern of equally sized cells, without regard to the underlying physical or administrative features, and then tallying up the population in each cell. That’s exactly what’s available in the Gridded Population of the World dataset produced by NASA. (The European Commission also has a similar dataset called the Global Human Settlement Layer.)

- Another conclusion that we can pick up from this visualization is that New York City really is unlike all of its American peers its density patterns belong in a category all their own. The plot shows the population of the top 200 grid cells in six representative cities, and here you can see just how much of an outlier New York is. The city’s 200th densest cell is denser than the most dense cells of Boston, the Twin Cities, or Dallas. Even Los Angeles and Chicago’s densest areas barely crack into the bottom half of New York’s top 200. — The #1 most dense cell, containing more than 42,000 people in Manhattan, is twice as dense as the #53 densest cell, with 21,000 people in Queens. Yet even that cell is still denser than the densest parts of Los Angeles or Chicago.

- The most provocative lesson to be drawn from thinking about population at the grid scale, however, is that it forces us to think about what we really mean when we talk about dense urban life. Is urban density about tall buildings, traffic congestion, and sharing the name of a city on your mailing address with millions of other people? Or is it more about the small-scale experience of everyday life, the number of neighbors you can reach within walking distance, the form and structure of a local community? — Just as average wealth and income statistics can’t take us very far in explaining how to fairly structure the distribution of economic gain in our society, the average population density of a vast metropolitan area does little to capture the many different ways that we might want to structure our cities and neighborhoods.

.....



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  #2  
Old Posted Jul 10, 2019, 6:00 PM
Handro Handro is offline
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Very, very interesting. I particularly was intrigued by this:

Quote:
Even among cells with similar population and density, the built environment can look strikingly different, the result of different cultural and economic factors in city-building across the country, and a tour of aerial photography gives us a window into the morphological diversity of American urbanity.
So I randomly chose a ranked square (#38) for three cities, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Washington and selected a few random google street images from those quadrants. Los Angeles is the densest at #38 (8,327/ km2), then Chicago (7,288/km2), then Washington (5,380/km2),

Here is the densest of the three, LA #38 quadrant:
https://www.google.com/maps/@34.0885...7i13312!8i6656

https://www.google.com/maps/@34.0868...7i13312!8i6656

https://www.google.com/maps/@34.0831...7i13312!8i6656

Here’s Chicago #38 quadrant:
https://www.google.com/maps/@41.9981...7i16384!8i8192

https://www.google.com/maps/@41.9963...7i16384!8i8192

https://www.google.com/maps/@41.9953...7i16384!8i8192

And Washington #38:
https://www.google.com/maps/@38.8947...7i16384!8i8192

https://www.google.com/maps/@38.8968...7i16384!8i8192

https://www.google.com/maps/@38.8933...7i16384!8i8192

Talk about a major difference. Los Angeles seems the LEAST dense in the sense of urbanity, despite having the highest density in that quadrant.
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Old Posted Jul 10, 2019, 6:06 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Handro View Post
Talk about a major difference. Los Angeles seems the LEAST dense in the sense of urbanity, despite having the highest density in that quadrant.
Larger number of people per household.
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Old Posted Jul 10, 2019, 6:32 PM
edale edale is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Handro View Post
Very, very interesting. I particularly was intrigued by this:



So I randomly chose a ranked square (#38) for three cities, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Washington and selected a few random google street images from those quadrants. Los Angeles is the densest at #38 (8,327/ km2), then Chicago (7,288/km2), then Washington (5,380/km2),

Here is the densest of the three, LA #38 quadrant:
https://www.google.com/maps/@34.0885...7i13312!8i6656

https://www.google.com/maps/@34.0868...7i13312!8i6656

https://www.google.com/maps/@34.0831...7i13312!8i6656

Here’s Chicago #38 quadrant:
https://www.google.com/maps/@41.9981...7i16384!8i8192

https://www.google.com/maps/@41.9963...7i16384!8i8192

https://www.google.com/maps/@41.9953...7i16384!8i8192

And Washington #38:
https://www.google.com/maps/@38.8947...7i16384!8i8192

https://www.google.com/maps/@38.8968...7i16384!8i8192

https://www.google.com/maps/@38.8933...7i16384!8i8192

Talk about a major difference. Los Angeles seems the LEAST dense in the sense of urbanity, despite having the highest density in that quadrant.
That is interesting, and it goes to show that population density isn't the end all be all of what makes an area urban and walkable. In the case of LA, I think the density is best explained through an aerial view of the neighborhood rather than street level:
https://www.google.com/maps/@34.0880.../data=!3m1!1e3

You can see that many buildings in this neighborhood, and indeed much of LA, go almost to the rear lot line. Density is squeezed in perpendicularly to the street, not parallel (DC) or vertical (Chicago). At street level, many LA neighborhoods look suburban, or at least not very dense. This is because of the front and side setbacks, and wide streets. Zooming out and seeing these neighborhoods from above tells a totally different story.
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Old Posted Jul 10, 2019, 8:19 PM
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Check out the second densest kilometer in Dallas, that can't possibly be right. The entire thing is river and floodplain.
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Old Posted Jul 10, 2019, 8:27 PM
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It's explained in the article, there is a high-rise jail located here.

Quote:
[...]There’s another, more sinister, phenomenon where we sometimes find highly localized spikes in density. The #2 most dense cell in Dallas (below) looked like an error to me at first, since it’s centered on the flood corridor of the Trinity River. But it turns out that the very eastern edge of this cell just overlaps the Lew Sterret Jail, a high-rise detention facility serving all of Dallas County. Famously sprawly Dallas, it turns out, does have a “neighborhood” that’s almost as dense as a coastal city—but the residents are all behind bars.[...]
https://www.citylab.com/perspective/...graphy/591760/
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Old Posted Jul 10, 2019, 8:36 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by edale View Post
That is interesting, and it goes to show that population density isn't the end all be all of what makes an area urban and walkable. In the case of LA, I think the density is best explained through an aerial view of the neighborhood rather than street level:
https://www.google.com/maps/@34.0880.../data=!3m1!1e3

You can see that many buildings in this neighborhood, and indeed much of LA, go almost to the rear lot line. Density is squeezed in perpendicularly to the street, not parallel (DC) or vertical (Chicago). At street level, many LA neighborhoods look suburban, or at least not very dense. This is because of the front and side setbacks, and wide streets. Zooming out and seeing these neighborhoods from above tells a totally different story.
Exactly. At street level, you would never guess that this is one of the densest neighborhoods in the city. Actually more dense than your average row house neighborhood in Chicago or Philly, with plentiful off-street parking for residents as well. LA manages to build high density in a bucolic setting without wall to wall urban monotony. At least, it did at one time because cookie-cutter condo towers are starting to pop up all over the place now. Those all look the same wherever you are in the country.
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Old Posted Jul 10, 2019, 8:47 PM
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Originally Posted by badrunner View Post
Actually more dense than your average row house neighborhood in Chicago or Philly, with plentiful off-street parking for residents as well. LA manages to build high density in a bucolic setting without wall to wall urban monotony.
philly is a rowhouse city, but chicago is definitely not, it's primarily a "flat" city.

95% percent of chicago neighborhood blocks are alleyed with off-street parking in the back.

and chicago does "bucolic density" very well too.

my neighborhood (~25,000 ppsm) is very typical of pre-war chicago residential vernacular: https://www.google.com/maps/@41.9647...7i16384!8i8192

there's a reason that chicago's motto is "urbs in horto" (city in a garden).
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Last edited by Steely Dan; Jul 10, 2019 at 9:14 PM.
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Old Posted Jul 10, 2019, 8:58 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by badrunner View Post
Exactly. At street level, you would never guess that this is one of the densest neighborhoods in the city. Actually more dense than your average row house neighborhood in Chicago or Philly, with plentiful off-street parking for residents as well. LA manages to build high density in a bucolic setting without wall to wall urban monotony. At least, it did at one time because cookie-cutter condo towers are starting to pop up all over the place now. Those all look the same wherever you are in the country.
I dunno, this is about as "urban bucolic" as you can get, imo: https://www.google.com/maps/@41.9095...7i16384!8i8192

And that's in Chicago's #1 densest neighborhood (17,500/km2)

I'd say at street level is the most important level, as that's where we experience cities.
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Old Posted Jul 10, 2019, 9:11 PM
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Those are some nice examples. There's an innate human longing for that mythical garden city. High quality, medium density multifamily with lush mature landscaping is what cities should aspire to. Not gaudy condo towers and McMansions.
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Old Posted Jul 10, 2019, 9:25 PM
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Originally Posted by Chef View Post
Check out the second densest kilometer in Dallas, that can't possibly be right. The entire thing is river and floodplain.
That building on the right edge is the jail complex. I'm assuming they meant to count that, as there are about 6k people incarcerated there.
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Old Posted Jul 11, 2019, 12:09 AM
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Originally Posted by iheartthed View Post
Larger number of people per household.
Is that true in this area? Garden apartment buildings in LA have multiple units ranging - 12-20+
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Old Posted Jul 11, 2019, 4:04 PM
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I know given the high cost of living/renting in LA sometimes there will be multiple families living in one unit, specially in alot of Mexican immigrant areas.
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Old Posted Jul 11, 2019, 6:13 PM
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Originally Posted by Chisouthside View Post
I know given the high cost of living/renting in LA sometimes there will be multiple families living in one unit, specially in alot of Mexican immigrant areas.
The LA area in question probably has more Asian (Thai, Korean, etc) than it does Hispanic population. It used to be heavily Armenian in that area, but I think the Armenian population has gravitated towards the Glendale area in the past few decades. The area to the southeast towards downtown is more Hispanic. In the early 1980s I owned a house a few blocks south on South Ardmore at 2nd St. That part of South Ardmore was all single family homes for a few blocks, and the occupants represented a veritable UN. I don't think I have ever lived on a street with such a diverse population.
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Old Posted Jul 11, 2019, 6:49 PM
Chisouthside Chisouthside is offline
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Originally Posted by austlar1 View Post
The LA area in question probably has more Asian (Thai, Korean, etc) than it does Hispanic population. It used to be heavily Armenian in that area, but I think the Armenian population has gravitated towards the Glendale area in the past few decades. The area to the southeast towards downtown is more Hispanic. In the early 1980s I owned a house a few blocks south on South Ardmore at 2nd St. That part of South Ardmore was all single family homes for a few blocks, and the occupants represented a veritable UN. I don't think I have ever lived on a street with such a diverse population.
Do you think given the urban morphology of that LA quadrant where it's also a similar situation with multiple families or extended family sizes living in a SFH?
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Old Posted Jul 11, 2019, 6:59 PM
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LA has higher household sizes than, say, Chicago or Philly, so, yes, it's a factor. Also, I believe average unit size is smaller, so not only do you have more folks per unit, you have more units per equivalent space.

And unlike a Chicago or Philly, the most urban parts aren't the most gentrified, so you can see different household typologies.
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Old Posted Jul 11, 2019, 8:09 PM
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Originally Posted by Crawford View Post
LA has higher household sizes than, say, Chicago or Philly, so, yes, it's a factor. Also, I believe average unit size is smaller, so not only do you have more folks per unit, you have more units per equivalent space.

And unlike a Chicago or Philly, the most urban parts aren't the most gentrified, so you can see different household typologies.
This is true, but only slightly. Chicaog has 2.5 people per household, LA has 2.8:

https://censusreporter.org/profiles/...00-chicago-il/
https://censusreporter.org/profiles/...os-angeles-ca/

I think your second point probably has much more to do with it... the places with the most housing stock also have fewer single people taking up entire units, and instead have families + relatives staying in each unit. Interesting nuances.
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Old Posted Jul 11, 2019, 8:35 PM
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This is true, but only slightly. Chicaog has 2.5 people per household, LA has 2.8:
And a lot of that is simply due to a younger population:

Chicago median age: 33.9, under 18: 26.9%

LA median age: 32.3, under 18: 28.5%

https://www.census-charts.com/Metropolitan/AgeSex.html

edit: I noticed Handro was using city figures. By metro the it's 2.7 vs 3.0 per household.
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Old Posted Jul 11, 2019, 9:00 PM
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LA is way more of an immigrant city than Chicago, so I absolutely believe there is a higher average household size. Probably even more than what is officially reported. When I lived in South LA by USC, it was not uncommon to see like 10 people living in a 2 bedroom apartment. I'd see into the windows of neighbor's places and would see mattresses laid down on the floor in the living room. Every inch of those apartments were lived in.

Also, LA has a lot of ADUs and granny flats behind single family homes and duplexes. These are often also over crowded. While Koreatown does have a significant Korean population, it is still majority Hispanic. In fact, Ktown is the hub of the Oaxacan community in LA, and there are also high concentrations of Central Americans. The north edge of Ktown is actually disputed territory, as it bleeds together with Little Bangladesh, and the borders are still pretty blurry.
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Old Posted Jul 11, 2019, 9:40 PM
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Originally Posted by edale View Post
LA is way more of an immigrant city than Chicago, so I absolutely believe there is a higher average household size. Probably even more than what is officially reported. When I lived in South LA by USC, it was not uncommon to see like 10 people living in a 2 bedroom apartment. I'd see into the windows of neighbor's places and would see mattresses laid down on the floor in the living room. Every inch of those apartments were lived in.

Also, LA has a lot of ADUs and granny flats behind single family homes and duplexes. These are often also over crowded. While Koreatown does have a significant Korean population, it is still majority Hispanic. In fact, Ktown is the hub of the Oaxacan community in LA, and there are also high concentrations of Central Americans. The north edge of Ktown is actually disputed territory, as it bleeds together with Little Bangladesh, and the borders are still pretty blurry.
Not just granny flats, there are a lot of illegal units in general. This might look like a normal SFH neighborhood, but each building has 4-6 units, some of which are illegal.

But still, I think you're overstating the overcrowding of immigrant families into single units. You are describing a limited geography within the city center. You see that kind of thing in certain neighborhoods like Ktown and Pico Union. But LA is huge. The city itself is 500 sq miles, the metro much larger, the vast majority of which is suburban. You may see the occasional suburban house with three generations of immigrants living together, but in general it's just not something that happens outside the core city areas. You'll never see it in the nicer suburban neighborhoods (which describes most of the LA metro). The wealthy neighbors won't stand for it. I would say even in the city center that kind of thing is happening less and less as gentrification sets in.
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