Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Not just unwalkable. Charlotte is 'least dense city in world'

 A new article from Wendell Cox at New Geography, "The Evolving Urban Form: Charlotte," is probably bringing glee to suburban real estate champions and heartburn to uptown boosters and those who support a more transit-supportive city.

" ... among the urban areas with more than 1 million population, Charlotte ranks last in urban population density in the United States (Figure 1) and last in the world," Cox writes. Wow. This, on top of the Walk Score analysis that found Charlotte the least walkable large city in the U.S. (See "Charlotte trails nation in walkability rankings.")

Cox is a long-time critic of cities' pursuit of public transit systems and of trying to focus development policies on more compact neighborhoods that allow people to drive less and walk more. His Wikipedia page says, "Cox generally opposes planning policies aimed at increasing rail service and density, while favoring planning policies that reinforce and serve the existing transportation and building infrastructure." It also says, "He has authored studies for conservative think tanks such as the Cato Institute, Heartland Institute, Heritage Foundation and the Reason Foundation, and for industry groups such as the American Highway Users Alliance, a lobbying and advocacy group for automobile-based industries."

Even if you don't agree with where he lands with his analysis, the simple numbers of urban density are worth noting. Of course, it's always worth remembering that the geography that any Metropolitan Statistical Area takes in can make a big difference in what you're calling "city" and that the MSA is different from what's deemed the "urbanized area." See "Boundary change boosts Charlotte metro population" and "Carolina metros, changes in the landscape."

Take a look. Comments welcome.

Update, 2:48 p.m. Jan. 8: One reader points out that using the larger geography of zip codes tends to mask pockets of higher density, and also points to the U.S. Census listing of the most populous counties, which includes population per square mile, as shown here via Wikipedia. I looked, and it shows Mecklenburg County (not the Charlotte metro region, not the "urbanized area") as in no way at the bottom of the density scores. Mecklenburg is denser than Maricopa County (Phoenix), San Diego County (Calif.), Miami-Dade County (Fla.), Honolulu County and Salt Lake County, among others. In other words, results depend a lot on which specific set of statistics one chooses to view.


Patrick said...

This passage seems wildly inaccurate, as it seems to completely miss the growing populations in South End, P-M, Elizabeth and NoDa.

"Inner Charlotte, for the purposes of this analysis (zip codes 28202 through 28208) covers approximately 28 square miles (73 square kilometers) and had a population of approximately 92,000 in 2010 . This is a larger area than the city of Charlotte in 1940, which covered only two thirds as much land area and had more people. Between 2000 and 2010, this inner area population rose by 6,200 residents. All the gain was in the central zip code that comprises the downtown area (central business district), which in Charlotte is called "Uptown." Outside this small 1.8 square mile area (4.7 square kilometers), the inner area actually lost 1,400 residents."

karin lukas said...


John said...

Cox cherry-picks his data set -- in this case the "urbanized area" as he defines it -- to fit the facts to the case he wants to make. He could probably make a lot of the places we know as "cities" seem positively rural. Many regions have learned to ignore him, but he can always gin-up an audience somewhere.

And in any cse, times are changing.

Anonymous said...

As a relative newcomer to the Charlotte area, I'd welcome other reader's insights as to the most walkable areas of Charlotte! Thank you.

Randy Simes said...

Population density is a complicated metric. For example, Indianapolis' Marion County is technically more densely populated than Cincinnati's Hamilton County. But any person who has gone to both cities knows this doesn't pass the sniff test.

If you are using population density to compare how "urban" an area is, then it's better to calculate the number of people living based on the amount of buildable area. If your community has protections from building on farmland or park space, then these will be a drag on your population density in the typical measurement, but they shouldn't.

Because yes, low-density single-family homes do represent a greater population density than a large wooded area. But that doesn't mean the area is densely populated or by any means urban.

M1EK said...

This is why most serious commentators use weighted density, i.e. the density that the median resident of an area experiences.

Elizabeth said...

A disaggregate perspective on the county's shift toward denser developments...

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