Pros and cons of High density housing

Imagine plunking a city the size of Paris or Los Angeles onto the map of North Texas. With our current infrastructure, we’d need to add a million homes or more. And then we’d have to address traffic, water supply, and other utilities. If current projections are accurate, we will add another four million people to the Metroplex in the next decade or so, making our population rival the size of most major global cities. Traffic and suburban sprawl are already straining our resources, so what should urban planners do? One proposition is to in-fill urban centers with high density developments – think high rises, old warehouses repurposed into loft apartments, and other multi-family housing.

There are plenty of considerations to make when developing high density housing. Environmental concerns and quality of life are probably the things that most often come to mind.

What are the major drawbacks to high density housing? Let’s take a look:

  • Traffic. When populations are concentrated, traffic congestion is a given. Public transportation and walkability of neighborhoods becomes increasingly important as traffic snarls and parking hassles grow. The traditional model of developers being required to provide a set number of parking spaces per anticipated user encourages more cars on the road, leading to more traffic issues.
  • Cost: Builders naturally want to make the most profit out of each development. That tends to mean that high-dollar housing in city centers crowd out affordably priced housing, driving out long-time residents, families and smaller businesses.
  • Potenital reduction of outdoor spaces: Amenities like parks and other green spaces don’t in themselves provide income to developers, and must be planned in high density developments to provide improved quality of life for would-be residents.

Benefits to high density housing include:

  • Geographically easier to manage school districts. Sprawling school districts are costlier to manage because of the difficulties in managing transportation and infrastructure across wide areas. Compact developments are more efficient and cost-effective.
  • Lower cost to maintain infrastructure for governments. Public roads, services, and utilities are much more expensive to maintain when homes and business are spread apart. Greater distances require more material to build and more crews to maintain than more compact footprints. Similarly, public services like effective police and fire departments are less costly when service areas are smaller.
  • Sprawl doesn’t pay the bills. Low density developments often do not provide a large enough tax base to cover the costs of public services. Mixed use developments with retail and apartments tend to pay a higher commercial tax rate and provide more services privately than communities made up of single family homes.
  • Higher density development helps attract new employers. Employers want to be where their workforce is, rather than try to attract workers to come to them. Communities that are convenient to work and lifestyle are thus more attractive for both employers and their workforce. 
  • Higher-density development can increase property values. Although location and school district are the two most obvious determining factors of value, the lifestyle benefits of high density communities can drive up their market value when done well. When there is a strong sense of community, or lots of amenities within a neighborhood, density and diversity can add a value of their own. Indeed, some experts believe that having multifamily housing nearby may increase the pool of potential future homebuyers, creating more possible buyers for existing owners when they decide to sell their houses.
  • Believe it or not, higher-density development generates less traffic than low-density development per unit. While residents of low-density single-family communities often have two or more cars per household, residents of high-density apartments and condominiums tend to have only one car per household. When public transportation is readily available, people in walkable communities will often opt to use it.
  • Gets rid of urban blight. Infill development to repurposes unused or abandoned lots and buildings into vibrant, tax-paying and revenue-generating parts of the community.

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