What is the Healthiest Density for a City?
Research now confirms the argument that many urbanists have been making for years: that dense places are healthier, because they are walkable and allow for spontaneous physical activity. From a NextCity article on the new research:
“The study, from Oxford University and the University of Honk Kong, looked at the impact of density on more than 400,000 residents in 22 British cities… Researchers nailed down the optimum density from a health perspective: more than 32 homes per hectare.”
“In areas of denser suburban sprawl (about 18 homes per hectare), driving is often the best or only option to get around, leading to higher rates of obesity and lower rates of exercise. Those in more spread out suburban areas with plenty of open spaces and parks were healthier than their more tightly packed (and, generally, less wealthy) suburban counterparts, but still lagged behind dense inner cities in terms of health and exercise.”
But what does 32 homes per hectare look like? What sort of density do we need, at minimum, to be healthy? Does everyone have to live in the downtown core of a big city to optimize their health? Not at all; 32 homes per hectare isn’t very dense at all. In fact, if you live in a big city, you may think such density is positively suburban.
32 homes per hectare is at the least dense end of what is often referred to as the “missing middle”. The missing middle “is a range of multi-unit or clustered housing types compatible in scale with single-family homes that help meet the growing demand for walkable urban living.” These gentler forms of density have many of the same benefits as a dense urban core, while still maintaining the “feel” of a single family neighbourhood.
The healthiest density for a city is any density that gets people walking, giving urban planners, designers, and developers a huge variety of options to help build the way to a healthier population.