Rising above the challenges of population density

Cities are constantly growing. Populations boom, almost overnight, giving rise to questions about sustainability, livability and strains on resources and space. Some urban populations spread to the outskirts; others remain closely concentrated around the urban center.

Urbanization theory examines the demographic shift to cities, carefully watching population numbers, population density and distribution, and how a city grows outwards or “vertically”. Urbanization theory often sees urban density as a chance to embrace advances in vertical building, while providing greater economic opportunities. 

Our cities, our future – Urbanization, a trend which shows no signs of abating, will remarkably change the way we live, work, and interact in our communities.

Published on 09.03.2016

High-density urban living

When talking about the rise of urban centers, many factors are discussed such as infrastructure, modernization, sustainability and public services. And many urban planners see size and density of the population as determinants of the economic rise or fall of a city.

Population density refers to the number of inhabitants per square kilometer (or mile) in a given area. Yet for some, densely populated cities bring to mind unmanageable crowds and unlivable conditions. Nevertheless, urban planners see opportunities in population density and point out that “urban density” can also make progress and growth accessible to more people


List of the most populated cities

The more the merrier?

Some urbanization theorists believe denser cities have great potential to be more productive, more innovative, and energy self-sufficient.

Yet, one can’t ignore that some of the world’s densest cities are also among the poorest. So how can density provide more chances for development rather than stagnation? Simply, high density enables the human interactions that are at the heart of economic innovation.

Statistics suggest that denser places offer greater economic mobility. The odds of rising to another economic level are higher in New York City than an isolated suburb. There are simply more prospects and, in dense, modern cities, a better infrastructure to reach them and an efficient grid to utilize them.

Vertical density makes a difference

Take the example of Mumbai. Limits on development height have kept housing scarce and expensive, and disconnected to a greater infrastructure. Singapore, in comparison, has a “high” downtown full of skyscrapers. Hong Kong, even more vertical, has successfully combined vertical density with, pedestrian friendly streets and skywalks.

By combining high-rise living with excellent transportation, energy-efficient grids, and green spaces, cities can get the most out of dense populations, and more residents can get the most out of their city.

The Imperial Towers Mumbai

The canyon effect

We’ve all walked through one – a “canyon” of skyscrapers devoid of street-life after hours. This kind of upwards sprawl, if overdone, isolates occupants and residents, instead of breeding innovation.

Vertical building must keep sight of the ground level. Excellent mobility must be provided within buildings, and they should be well connected to the local infrastructure. Efficient building mobility ensures that even upper floors can be attractive and rewarding places to live.

Skyscrapers should draw people in, but not overshadow and isolate them.

Number of skyscrapers in urban centers
Vertical density of cities compared by number of skyscrapers

Vertical density destined to uplift cities

There is no question that cities must build vertically to accommodate dense populations. Experience shows that density without skyscrapers simply does not work.

Naturally, steps can be taken to help ensure a city doesn’t lose its heart and soul among a forest of tall buildings. Take the example of Paris. It’s denser than Manhattan, but has slowly introduced skyscrapers into its future urban planning.

Tall buildings uplift densely populated cities, creating space for diversified urban landscapes. Instead of stagnating under growth, cities can use vertical density to let in light and new ideas and keep megacities vital.

Hong Kong Skyline
Hong Kong: The city with highest vertical density


Image 1: Sao Paulo by Flickr User Deni Williams
Image 2: Mumbai Imperial Tower, by Krupasindhu Muduli (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Image 3: Hong Kong by Flickr User eGuide Travel, Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)