Georg Günsberg | Politik- und Strategieberatung | Neustiftgasse 11,  A-1070 Wien |

Density – A still underestimated environmental aspect


Urban and regional planners know about the importance of density. No doubt about that. But do policy makers know, too? Well, apparently not, but that might change.

The deep economic crisis we are still facing is a chance to put density more into the spotlight of environmental thinking. And of course, the question how we can create sustainable cities is strongly linked to the density issue.

The economic crisis has lead to a comeback of the debate on the ”limits of growth”.  A conference titled “Growth in transition” in Vienna discussed the question of sustainable growth a few weeks ago. I can highly recommend the presentations of top experts from different disciplines on that issue. It gets us right to the centre of environmental and economic concerns. What kind of growth do we want for the future and how we can shape this transformation process towards sustainability?  It is not impossible to cover all aspects in a blog post, but there is one slide I want you to have a look.

Nina Eisenmenger, who works at the Institute of Social Ecology (IFF-Vienna, Klagenfurt University) gave a presentation on “resource use and economic growth”.  In one slide she talked about the aspect of population density and the material use (construction minerals, ores and industrial minerals, fossil fuels, biomass).

Countries with low population density have a much higher resource use, especially concerning fossil fuels. It is of course important to differentiate between industrial and developing countries. But within these groups there is a significant gap. To be precise, it is clear that a comparison between countries and population density is not 1:1 transferable to all aspects of density and all areas, but let´s take it as a hint on an obvious correlation. That is no surprise, especially when we think of the mobility sector. A lot of studies confirm that.

But nevertheless, density is still not a central aspect of environmental politics. But higher resource prices and the crisis might bring a shift, because it is not only oil where high demand might bring high prices because of a production peak. Minerals and ores are under pressure, too.

As we can see there is a change of thinking in the USA on the effects of suburbanisation and urban sprawl due to the rise of the oil price. The questions of lifestyle and culture are closely connected to sustainability.

So, the challenge is to develop cities offering high quality and, making the urban area liveable.

Again I want to give a hint on Vancouver. Not only because of the Olympic Games right now, but because of their Ecodensity program, which has lead to a debate with conflict potential, too. Read more on the Ecodensity program here in our own case study. The remarkable thing is that Vancouver really defined and communicated the term “density” as crucial. This is not only important because of the processes and measures included, but it is a chance to raise awareness for a key to reduce the carbon footprint and offer life quality to the people.

This blog post was originally published on
Picture by Mark Strozier is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.



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