What is it about?

This study focuses on the urban population and more specifically on the role of project-​related factors and planning instruments in explaining public opposition towards densification projects. Our findings highlight the key role of project characteristics in driving public acceptance of densification in the six metropolises: Acceptance increases when a project includes mixed residential and commercial use and is carbon neutral, and conversely, projects of for-​profit investors face more resistance. In addition, we systematically studied the impact of three planning tools used in residential densification projects: Inclusionary zoning, (requiring a minimum share of newly constructed affordable housing units), rent control (regulating rent increases, also called the “rent cap” in Berlin), and participatory planning (involving the public in planning processes). In all six cities, our research shows that a fixed share of affordable housing units for lower income groups, rent control and participation increase acceptance. Residential densification projects that provide affordable housing in cities are more widely accepted because they help mitigate the perceived negative impacts of that densification. It is particularly interesting to note that both rent control, which could well be motivated out of self-​serving reasons, and a fixed share of housing for low-​income households have the effect of increasing acceptance. This point towards the conclusion that affordable housing is a key concern in cities worldwide and it is important in shaping public opinion about urban densification, regardless of whether someone directly benefits from it or not.

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Why is it important?

Densifying existing settlements while containing urban sprawl – this idea has spread far beyond urban planning circles and is now recognised as a key principle of urban development. Ultimately, dense and compact cities can contribute to several environmental, economic, and social benefits: less urban sprawl, protection of undeveloped land, shorter transport routes, lower greenhouse gas emissions, the creation and cultivation of diverse neighbourhoods, and access to more social and cultural amenities. Nevertheless, urban densification projects regularly encounter local resistance. There are numerous reasons for this, typically including aspects such as traffic, noise, change to the neighbourhood character or loss of green space. And in democratic countries, a lack of public acceptance is one of the main factors that can slow down or even block the densification of cities and metropolitan regions.

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This page is a summary of: Planning instruments enhance the acceptance of urban densification, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, September 2022, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, DOI: 10.1073/pnas.2201780119.
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