Diversity and The City: city size, density, and wealth

In the last few days, I had the opportunity to read quite a lot on social media, ubicomp, architecture, etc.  and found few papers studying the relationship between city density and citizens’ use of social media. So I thought it might be useful to report what Jane Jacobs wrote in her book “The Death and Life of Great American Cities” in 1961:

… it still remains that dense concentrations of people are one of the necessary conditions for flourishing city diversity. And it still follows that in districts where people live, this means there must be a dense concentration of their dwellings on the land preempted for dwellings.

She makes the distinction between density and overcrowding:

Overcrowding within dwellings or rooms, in our country, is almost always a symptom of poverty or of being discriminated against, and it is one (but only one) of many infuriating and discouraging liabilities of being very poor or of being victimized by residential discrimination, or both.

Warning 1: Overcrowding is not necessarily connected to density. Jacobs actually says that overcrowding might be more commonly seen in low-density areas. So number of dwellings per acre might be more informative.

Warning 2: City diversity is different than city wealth. The idea is that

city density contributes to city diversity: low concentration areas (suburbs) can only support businesses of the dominant culture, while cities can afford diverse businesses…

To sum up, the relationship wealth-density is a complicated one :)

Now, a couple of months ago, the bright minds behind The Economist Intelligence Unit published a very nice report  titled Hot Spots. In it, they build a competitiveness index for cities. Toward the end of the report (you can read it here), they add:

Cities of all sizes can be competitive, but density is a factor in the competitiveness of larger cities. The top ten most competitive cities in this ranking range from the world’s biggest (Tokyo’s estimated 36.7m people) to some of its smallest (Zurich’s estimated 1.2m). Indeed, there is no correlation seen between size and competiveness in the Index. While bigger cities offer a greater pool of labour and higher demand, as well as

potential economies of scale, if they are not planned correctly congestion and other issues can actively impede their competitiveness. Urban density is clearly linked to higher productivity: Hong Kong’s efficient density is one reason it performs far better in the Index than, say, Mexico City’s inefficient urban sprawl.

So the conclusion is:

So while size can bring advantages in terms of a city’s overall competitiveness, it will only do so if it is carefully planned. Greater density can help, although this isn’t necessarily the only solution. Overall, however, there is no clear correlation between absolute population size and overall competitiveness

p.s. This is an interesting post on density vs. Jacobs’ density.

p.s. Another interesting post on density vs. livability 

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