Delightfully dense in Mountain View

Thursday, Feb. 18, the Mountain View Coalition for Sustainable Planning hosted Redwood City planner Dan Zack to give his presentation: “Delightful Density: Strategies for Comfort, Convenience, and Choice in the Cities of the New Reality” (YouTube). The event, which marked the kick-off to MVCSP’s new series The Livable Communities Forum, was held at the Mountain View Community Center.

Munching on locally produced snacks, nearly 50 people watched Zack explain why it is a mistake for cities to set excessive housing density limits. Cities limit densities to preserve a suburban or rural character, or to prevent problems such as parking shortages and traffic congestion, but overdoing it can also create problems such as housing shortages, automobile dependence, and suburban sprawl.

Though density is often the main focus of planning efforts, the idea by itself does not convey much about the look, feel, or relative success of development. Zack demonstrated the limitations, dwelling on density via a “guess the density” game he played with the audience. Participants were shown about a dozen projects, ranging in density from very low to extremely high, and were asked to guess their densities. The results were often surprising — stereotypical skyscrapers often boasted lower densities than charming, smaller buildings which blended into the surrounding neighborhood.

Zack also emphasized the increase in amenities like restaurants, shops, and services that an increase in density often brings. These higher-density developments tend to offer more convenience and options for residents while also being far less land- and energy-intensive than lower-density, sprawling developments.

Beyond the environmental and community benefits, there is a large economic incentive to build more compact housing. Zack talked about the growing demand for the kind of walkable, urban communities that high-density development creates.

Following the presentation Zack answered many thoughtful questions from the audience — many of which brought a local relevance to the presentation.

Planning issues in Mountain View have been in the news as Google recently announced its support of adding more housing and shops around the Google campus.

MVCSP is an ally of Greenbelt Alliance.

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