Friday, 22 September 2017

Still Dispelling High Density Myths

Written by Posted On Tuesday, 14 June 2005 00:00

It's surprising the American Institute of Architects, the National Multi Housing Council, the Sierra Club, and the Urban Land Institute still have to circle the wagons on marauding NIMBYs (not in my back yard) who denounce high-density housing for a host of misguided reasons.

The ever-rising cost of driving from the sprawling hinterlands to far away work centers would seem enough to give the green light to higher density housing construction near work centers, transit and shopping.

The relief to a community's transportation-fire-police-schools infrastructure that can come with well-conceived high density housing has been evidenced for decades.

Older neighborhoods that remain vibrant, safe, pedestrian-friendly communities full of diversity -- including retail variety as well as ethnic mix -- were originally constructed that way just for those reasons.

And don't forget the skyrocketing cost of land and, when homes are spread with sprawl, the associated higher price that comes with a house -- not to mention the toll on the greenbelt.

Yes, high density housing still has its detractors, but their ranks are thinning, thanks largely to ongoing efforts to debunk outdated reasoning with myth-dispelling fact.

To that end, sixth in a series, "Higher-Density Development Myth and Fact" by the Urban Land Institute is the latest dissertation to put down myths about high density housing. This debunking effort comes with profiles of 16 projects around the nation where higher-density development has proved successful in creating livable communities.

Here, according to the band of high-density believers, are the myths bashed.

Myth #1: Higher-density development overburdens public schools and other public services and requires more infrastructure support systems.

Debunked: The U.S. Census Bureau says for every 100 units of housing there are 64 school-aged children living in single-family detached homes, compared to 19 to 21 kids living in apartments. Fewer families with kids put less demand on the schools and other public services. The compact nature of higher-density development inherently requires less supporting infrastructure.

Myth #2: Higher density housing lowers property values in surrounding areas.

Debunked: It's more likely the opposite is true, especially in many older neighborhoods where new construction comes with the jurisdiction approving the construction only if the builder agrees to update, build or refurbish parks, schools, or other community features. The National Association of Home Builders, using census data from the American Housing Survey, found that between 1997 and 1999, the value of single-family houses within 300 feet of an apartment or condominium building went up 2.9 percent a year, slightly higher than the 2.7 percent rate for single-family homes without multi-family properties nearby.

Myth #3: Higher-density development creates more regional traffic congestion and parking problems than low-density development.

Debunked: Again, the opposite is more true. Not only does most of today's higher density housing come with mandated parking facilities for residents, it's often constructed as transit-oriented development (TOD) where walking and public transit use are more feasible. Much of it also comes with ground-floor service-type retail space where residents can obtain the basic services they need day-to-day without repeated drives to the mall. A National Personal Transportation Survey says doubling density decreases the vehicle miles traveled by 38 percent. Condo, townhome and apartment residents average 5.6 to 6.3 car trips per day, compared with ten trips a day averaged by residents of low-density communities, the survey said.

Myth #4: High-density developments leads to higher crime rates.

Debunked: The crime rates at higher-density developments are not significantly different from those at lower-density developments, especially when you consider each apartment or condo unit as a single home. Density itself can help reduce crime with a 24-hour community that increases pedestrian activity and puts more "eyes on the street" more often.

Myth #5: Higher-density development is environmentally more destructive than lower-density development.

Debunked: That myth is actually a truth about low-density development which requires more natural areas and greater swaths of land, effectively increasing air and water pollution. It's simple: the more land you use for development the more you deplete the natural environment.

Myth #6: Higher-density development is ugly and does not mesh well with low-density communities.

Debunked: Virtually all the high-density developments highlighted in the study reveal architects' and developers' remarkable skills at building the new to blend with the old. For example, Echelon at Lakeside, a multi-family development in an upscale master-planned, otherwise single-family home development in Plano, TX, used street elevations to make the multi-family buildings appear to be one single-family home. They are actually several multi-family units. The unique design -- the way the development "looks" -- overcame initial community opposition.

Myth #7: No one in suburbia wants high density development.

Debunked: America's population is changing. As baby boomers age and their kids leave the nest both for many of the debunking reasons mentioned above, many of them would like to see the trappings of higher-density housing in the 'burbs. Also, by 2003 the largest household group was married couples without children, followed by men or women living alone, according to census figures. Both groups also often seek alternatives to single-family detached home lifestyles.

Myth #8: High density housing is only for lower-income households.

Debunked: Again, wealthy baby boomers and young professionals on a career track are frequent buyers and renters of high-density homes and given the trend toward luxury apartment development with upscale amenities, the new housing is seldom cheap. Low-income people simply can't afford half-million dollar lofts and other homes outfitted with wireless Internet access, onsite concierges and business meeting rooms.

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Broderick Perkins

A journalist for more than 35-years, Broderick Perkins parlayed an old-school, daily newspaper career into a digital news service - Silicon Valley, CA-based DeadlineNews.Com. DeadlineNews.Com offers editorial consulting services and editorial content covering real estate, personal finance and consumer news. You can find DeadlineNews.Com on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter  and Google+

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