Question of the Week: What is the Right Density for a Strong Town?

Every week, we take one of the best questions submitted to the Strong Towns Knowledge Base, and we answer it here. This week’s question is one we hear a lot, in one variation or another: What is the right density to ensure my town is a strong town?

The Knowledge Base is a crowd-sourced repository of your questions and answers about how to build a strong town. We on the Strong Towns staff chip in when we can, but we can’t get to everything—which is why we encourage all of our members and readers to head on over and add not only questions, but comments with any additional advice, useful links, or wisdom you have to offer!

Think about the most common terms you hear in city planning. Near the top of the list is one that likely comes to mind: density. People often use the term density to reinforce various points. A housing advocate will say density creates more affordable housing; a planner will say density means more financially solvent neighborhoods. 

They’re not wrong, exactly. More units means households that the developer can spread out the cost of land and construction; more development in a neighborhood means more tax revenue. 

However, to use density as a catch-all solution to creating a financially solvent place disregards an essential point: the ratio of public and private investment determines financial solvency—not the amount of development on a street (in other words, density).