Building Efficiently; Seattle & Portland

Recently Vox Media published a study using a new measure of household density to determine which cities are building in the most efficient manner. Normal studies use an old and simple measure of density, while this study uses a targeted measure that more accurately weights parts of a city where a higher proportion of people actually reside. This new measure therefore can see past industrial and commercial areas and focuses on where people actually live. What now becomes apparent is that as people are leaving the urban areas of some cities (Detroit, Cincinnati etc…), other locales are becoming more dense without housing costs increasing dramatically.

Portland and Seattle lie near the top of this graph, and far above the regression line (click to enlarge)

Looking at the graph, it stands to reason that places like Charlotte are adding the most density. Because Charlotte was such a sprawled out metro area before their building boom, current building can increase its measured density quickly because the weighted housing density was so low to begin with. New Orleans (bottom left of graph) is both losing population and is becoming less dense; which can be interpreted as people are leaving the city, and most new construction starts are in suburban areas.

Whereas cities such as San Francisco and New York have historically struggled balancing population growth with affordable housing, Seattle and Portland have maintained relaxed expansionary policies aiding the ability of people to build in those cities. These measures have contributed to falling rents in some parts of Seattle; a prospect that seems ludicrous in places like the greater Bay Area. For growing cities, generating positive infill (as opposed to exclusively generating sprawl… Looking at you, Phoenix) and keeping housing costs down is an ideal win-win situation, and is something other cities should emulate.

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