Why Density is a Good Thing for LA

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Surprise! LA is the nation’s most dense city.

Say what? Ask people what is the most dense city in the United States, and a majority would say New York or Chicago. But if you define density as population per square mile, metropolitan Los Angeles heads the list. L.A. has about 7,000 residents per square mile, with San Francisco/Oakland at 6,266, and New York trailing at a mere, 5,319.

And this is a good thing?


Density was the topic for a recent Downtown Breakfast Club symposium held at the eminent California Club in Downtown Los Angeles. Dick Lewis, CEO of Lewis & Associates, was the mastermind behind the provocative panel, which included such luminaries as (from left) architect Wade Killefer, Killefer Flammang Architects; planner Simon Pastucha; Carolyn Ramsay, chief of staff for Councilman Tom La Bonge; developer Wayne Ratkovich; and Bill Roschen, past president of Los Angeles Planning Commission.

“Key to L.A.’s leadership is that it has denser suburbs than any other city, not because our downtown has more people,” architect Wade Killefer explained.

LA has denser suburbs. Interesting. This revelation about LA’s density surfaced in a government press release issued in early 2012, citing figures from the 2010 US Census. The topic received quite a bit of media coverage and raised questions about where LA is heading.

It turns out that LA has high density, just the wrong kind. What LA needs is strategically-planned density to support a vibrant urban infrastructure. And because LA historically has been a decentralized region with no defined center, the vision of Los Angeles as a collection of flourishing “urban villages” connected by public transportation, bike lanes, and green spaces could very well become a reality.  So we’re not talking suffocating density like London or Tokyo.

The panel concluded that even greater density is needed, but confined to where density is desired and where it works, with quality of life being the major goal. Apparently the city has already planned for increased population by shaping new development with urban design, such as activating under-utilized buildings, addressing the need for more hotels and expanding the Convention Center. A key component is public transportation and linkages between development and train stations so that people can live where they work.


Courtyard of Musée de Montmartre. Paris is the quintessential walking city.

No need to convince me this is a good thing! I’m already living the life. I have a home office in leafy Studio City, just blocks from bustling Ventura Blvd. and the Metro Red Line. I recently turned in my leased Audi and bought a Fiat 500, the perfect vehicle for a lifestyle that is more urban hopper than autobahn commuter. Oh, and I also live part time in Paris, where we don’t even have a car. Voilà!