Report from the World Urban Forum… “Anatomy of Density: Why Tall Buildings Can’t Solve the Problem of Urban Growth”

Global leaders in urban sustainability gather in Kuala Lumpur — and challenge conventional wisdom and “business as usual”

Michael Mehaffy moderates a session at the World Urban Forum on “Public Space in the New Urban Agenda: Research Into Implementation.” Introducing Setha Low, an eminent scholar on public space at the City University of New York.

KUALA LUMPUR: This week I am at the World Urban Forum, with a focus on implementing the New Urban Agenda — the landmark document on sustainable urban development agreed to by all 193 member states of the United Nations.  There is a heavy focus here on evidence-based approaches, and on research into action by leading universities.  We are here as part of our research unit, the Centre for the Future of Places at KTH Royal Institute of Technology (where one of us is a senior researcher, and another has been a visiting scholar).  We have been involved in a partnership with UN-Habitat to develop language on the importance of public space, which is now secured in the New Urban Agenda — but now the emphasis is on implementation.

One of the key challenges is in thinking through current assumptions and beliefs, and assessing which are sound and which are not.  Given the recent debates in Portland, we were struck by the session below (which occurs tomorrow as we write this).   We have also seen other work challenging much of the current conventional wisdom about urban sustainability and livability (as we have written about in this blog).  Surely we need to examine our own assumptions in the light of evidence, and be open to debate and challenge. Surely we need to be more willing to learn from others around the world, and share our own lessons learned  as well?

A more extensive report from the World Urban Forum will follow soon!  Meanwhile, here is the listing for the session that caught our eye:

Anatomy of Density: Why Tall Buildings Can’t Solve the Problem of Urban Growth
Monday 12 February 2018, 17:00 – 18:00

Organization: NYU Stern Urbanization Project

This session will focus on several exciting new developments in the study of density. Much effort has been made to establish the importance of density in addressing a range of ills, from long commutes to climate change to the obesity epidemic. By comparison, relatively little effort has gone into the study of the components of density, the factors that affect it, and the steps that can be taken to increase it. Moving beyond the simple assumption that cities need infill, growth controls, and higher buildings, this session explores three primary factors that make up the density of a city – Floor Area Occupancy, Building Height, and Residential coverage – and shows that density is, in fact, the result of seven components, each of which can be affected by regulatory changes or infrastructure investments. These components will soon be measured in the full United Nations sample of 200 cities, but the simple explication of this new understanding of density can help point the way toward the creation of more compact, inclusive, and sustainable cities.

One of many sessions at the World Urban Forum.  Michael Mehaffy moderates at right.

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