Is there such a thing as too much density?

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve had many people ask about my trip to Hong Kong.  While I go through and describe the wonderful conversations we had and places we saw, I find myself keep coming back to the following picture

While the picture does showcase the vast density of Hong Kong, as many of my peers can attest, it still doesn’t really convey the true feeling a person experiences when witnessing this first hand.   Even having been in Hong Kong for a couple of days, this sight really did leave me speechless.

That being said, I thought back to the US and how there is definitely a push to make many urban areas more dense.  The hope is that larger numbers of people living closely together allows for amenities within walking distance.  The density can also generate the potential for more environmentally sustainable living where people can perform some of their errands on foot or by taking public transit.  The latter of which really only works in higher density areas, such as Hong Kong.

But, there can be a thing as too much density.  While there are many benefits to the dense urban environment, it can come with many negative externalities as the previous post discussed.  I came across a report from Demographia that pointed out the world’s most densely populated cities generally score poorly on the prosperity scale (when focusing on price and income).  Hong Kong while ranking 42nd in population was 3rd in density at roughly 66,000 people per square mile (Bangladesh at 90,000 and Mumbai at 70,000).  However when looking at GDP, Hong Kong was 16th, Mumbai was 29th, and Bangladesh was in the 70s.

Of course the inverse is not any more true.  The less densely populated cities don’t seem to have a greater change of being prosperous so there may not be a direct correlation between prosperity and density.  However, in spending a few days in Hong Kong, I personally found it to be very prosperous and vibrant.  More data points would need to be gathered to identify the true factors of prosperity and help earmark that level of density that is absolutely efficient and sustainable for the given urban area.

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2 Responses to Is there such a thing as too much density?

  1. joshuadf says:

    Bangladesh is a county of about 160 million people. Perhaps Demographia meant Dhaka, Bangladesh? Also, “people can perform some of their errands on foot or by taking public transit” in places much less dense than Hong Kong.

  2. yifeim says:

    A lot of cities in China has this density.

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