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.