ULI Europe has undertaken a broad effort to investigate the issue of densification and how European cities can densify in ways that keep the focus on people and create livable, vibrant, and thriving places. While discussions of density in the popular media often focus on the rapidly urbanizing megacities of Asia and Africa, the question of how to develop land most efficiently without sacrificing quality of life or opportunity is as urgent in Europe as it is elsewhere, a new report argues.
The Density Dividend: Solutions for Growing and Shrinking Cities says that density is a tool applicable to all cities no matter where they are in their growth cycles. In Europe, cities vary widely in terms of population growth: a few are attracting newcomers at a steady clip, whereas many others are steadily losing population through out-migration or low birth rates, or both. Several cities—particularly those in the former Eastern Bloc—built isolating residential towers, sprawling single-use suburbs, and gated communities that are now proving to be liabilities.
“Density is an essential component of how cities manage and accommodate the ebb and flow of urban change,” write coauthors Greg Clark, senior fellow at ULI Europe, and Tim Moonen, director of intelligence at the Business of Cities Ltd. “Today, the drivers of population growth, economic change, new lifestyle demands, and sustainability mean Europe’s cities have little choice but to optimize their land use and reimagine density for people,”
The Density Dividend was recently discussed at a panel on density and sprawl held during the 2015 ULI Fall Meeting in San Francisco. Alice Breheny, global cohead of research at TH Real Estate, a key sponsor of the report, remarked that the rural-to-urban migration occurring elsewhere in the world “finished a long time ago” in Europe. Nonetheless, European cities still need to densify in order to attract consumers who are moving to cities not out of economic necessity, but simply because they want to.
“The population isn’t growing organically anymore, apart from in a handful of locations,” Breheny said during the panel. “The move of people, urbanization, and densification is more about choice or the global nature of the workforce now and how mobile that is.” (Watch a video of this session.)
Published in October, The Density Dividend is a follow-up to an earlier publication,Density: Drivers, Dividends, and Debates, which set out to define what good density looks like, address myths and misperceptions around density, and differentiate the well-intentioned but misguided attempts at densification of the past from current efforts.
To illustrate how density can help cities regardless of whether they are growing, shrinking, or slowly rebounding, the report offers case studies of six cities that are at different points in their evolutionary paths. It identifies challenges each city faces in terms of maximizing density’s potential to suit its needs as well as strategies that are working to meet demand in scalable and sustainable ways, accentuate assets to attract new investment, or consolidate in cases where land is vacant and underused. The report’s findings were informed by forums held in each of the cities where feedback from stakeholders was incorporated into the final report.
Here are some case studies
Strongly Growing Cities: London, Istanbul, Stockholm
London, Istanbul, and Stockholm are identified as cities that continue to attract new businesses and residents in search of opportunity. Their central dilemma is how to ramp up development in ways that are human in scale.
London and Stockholm are two growing cities that are densifying thoughtfully, according to the report. Long-range planning has been key to their efforts.
In London, the London Housing Strategy has created a clear blueprint for delivering 42,000 new homes within a year. The strategy divides the city into 18 housing zones, which will allow local authorities to assemble and package brownfield land for development and obtain planning permission in advance. A “housing bank” that provides loans and other banking services to developers and housing associations to fund new home construction and renovation has been created as part of the strategy.
To learn more about other densifying cities in Europe , view this article Urban Land Institute