Density and Privacy...Live Together in Perfect Harmony

Visualizing Density, the study mentioned in the previous post, lists common misconceptions about high density areas: crowding, monotony, a lack of privacy, and of green space. While the idea of people choosing suburban environments over urban ones because of fear of monotony seems a bit ridiculous (though I'm sure that it happens with mind-bending frequency) I can understand where people would worry about the loss of privacy and personal space, as these are very important in terms of having a place that is one's own. But I'm not sure why low-density communities look so much more attractive than misrepresented high-density areas, since they often just flip the coin and provide residents with too much private space -- isolation.

I've never, ever understood the societal obsession with having a yard, which is sort of the cornerstone of the low-density suburban community. I grew up with a decently-sized yard (though we had plenty of private space in our house), and have a lot of great memories of getting together with all of the kids in my neighborhood and playing marathon games of "kick the can" or "ghost in the graveyard" that stretched long into the night. I have no fond memories of playing alone in the quiet privacy of my empty back yard. And, unfortunately, the memories of those marathon games are few because, since the neighborhood was so spread out, the opportunities for everyone to get together were infrequent.

Even when they say that they don't, people like to be around people. They may not enjoy huge crowds (or even conversation -- cranky codgers!), but there is a distinct sensation that accompanies walking down a busy street. Well-trafficked areas feel safer and livelier, and remind us of the fact that we are a part of a community. As Jane Jacobs famously highlighted in The Death and Life of Great American Cities, sidewalk life is what builds strong social neighborhoods (which are infinitely more important than lines on a map.) So the [mis]use of space seems to be one of the most critically misunderstood aspects of planning in the public realm. Low-density areas essentially take all of the space that would normally be used for socializing and privatizes it. And worst of all, this is seen as an upside.

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