How urban density affects how you get around

Yesterday I wrote about urban-suburban divides within cities. And I argued that built form will largely dictate the kinds of transportation choices that people will ultimately make.

As a follow-up to that, here is a chart based on the findings of a research report completed by Peter Newman and Jeffrey Kenworthy way back in 1989. On the x-axis is urban density (i.e. built form) and on the y-axis is per capita transport related energy consumption.

What this chart shows is that as cities become more dense, “automobile dependence” is reduced in favor of, other, more sustainable forms of transport. 

Here we have Houston at the top left (meaning it has the highest transport-related energy consumption per capita) and Hong Kong all the way on the bottom right. Hong Kong has by far the highest density among the cities looked at in this study, but Moscow seems to have the lowest per capita energy consumption. Still, the trend appears clear.

Some people think of “density” as a dirty word. But there are lots of benefits to dense urban centers. And density does not necessarily have to mean tall buildings.

Chart: Globalization Studies in an Urban World (Penn)


The National Flower

“Our national flower is the concrete cloverleaf,” wrote Lewis Mumford in 1961. Driving per person continued to rise steadily for 43 years after that, and then it stopped. Automobile miles per capita have declined every year since 2004. Also, those concrete cloverleafs have become expensive maintenance problems. One could say the national flower has begun to wilt.

Quote source: Top 10 Reasons for a New American Dream -

Images: the cloverleaf interchanges of Atlanta’s I-285


Airport in Berlin becomes public space. For almost 100 years, the former Tempelhof Airport was excluded from the layout of the growing city of Berlin. Although it symbolised the connection of people and cities, the airport itself cut off the adjoining neighbourhoods of Neukölln, Kreuzberg and Tempelhof from each other. This has changed since the opening up of the airport grounds to the public in May 2010. The former airport building, the emerging park landscape and the building areas at the edges of the former airfield merge to form a giant public space. Current planning at the site focuses on social, cultural and economic diversity.  In order to be able to transform Tempelhofer Freiheit into a future-oriented component in Berlin’s inner city, it is necessary to pay need to a wide array of existing conditions, expectations and requirements in the overall urban community.


Neon New York | Via

It was for photographs of New York, such as these taken for LIFE magazine, that Andreas Feininger (1906-1999) attained fame. A trained architect, Feininger turned to photography at age 30. In 1939, he emigrated from Europe to New York, where he made photography his career.

Just three decades earlier, a large-scale neon light was switched on in front of the public for the very first time when Georges Claude — aka “the Edison of France” — demonstrated his invention at the Paris Motor show in December 1910.

Claude’s company was creating huge amounts of neon as a waste product of its core business, liquefying air, and it was this supply of neon that kicked off the age of the neon sign. With his patents, Claude had a monopoly on neon sign production.

The neon signs might have been made purely for advertising. A variety of colors could be made to light tubes that were bent into any and every shape, including letters and numbers. In 1913, three years after the Motor Show a huge Cinzano sign was on display in Paris, and in 1923, Claude sold two neon signs to an LA car dealership — the first American neon signs. (They said “Packard.”)

Licensing smaller manufacturers to create neon signs in specific geographic territories, Claude’s neon sign company took a percentage of the entire business, valued at $16.9 million by 1931. A year later, his patent expired. By 1940, almost 2,000 small workshops were crafting neon signs in the U.S.

The quality of life in cities has much to do with systems of transport, which are often a source of much suffering for those who use them. Many cars, used by one or more people, circulate in cities, causing traffic congestion, raising the level of pollution, and consuming enormous quantities of non-renewable energy. This makes it necessary to build more roads and parking areas which spoil the urban landscape.

Pope Francis

Image: roads and parking lots in Midtown Atlanta

Read more about the Pope’s surprisingly eco-urbanist thoughts on cities here: “The Pope’s wise advice on traffic, parking and public transit