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Name:Michael Patrick
Location:San Jose, California, United States

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Saturday, August 13


San Jose the Converse of Boston (Or: The Decentralized Density of the West)

San Jose is now the USA's tenth-largest city; what does that mean when the city's boundaries are drawn so broadly as to include as much far-flung population as possible? It means San Jose can be a big city without its citizens perceiving it as such. This is the opposite of Boston, one Cyburbian comments:

Since I was born in (and often visit) San Jose and now live in Boston, I find it interesting how local perceptions can clash with the reality of development. In Boston, people see the high density core and refuse to believe that the suburbs are so sprawled, despite the fact there must be several dozen towns of about 15 - 20 square miles with about 10K - 15k population. Greater Boston is really Eastern Massachusetts, with parts of New Hampshire, Rhode Island and even Connecticut and Maine thrown in. And the sprawl is getting worse.

In San Jose, people find it difficult to conceptualize that they live in a big city, even as the city itself is now the 10th largest in the country and the total valleypopulation is approaching 1.7 million people. Because they have run out of land, more and more high rise developments are being proposed. It will be interesting to see how perceptions might change in another 20 years.

This Cyburbia discussion thread is in response to this Planetizen-linked Washington Post article, which concludes urban areas of the American West are denser than the East's, at least when measured at the metropolitan level (emphasis added):

Odd as it may seem, density is the rule, not an exception, in the wide-open spaces of the West. Salt Lake City is more tightly packed than Philadelphia. So is Las Vegas in comparison with Chicago, and Denver compared with Detroit. Ten of the country's 15 most densely populated metro areas are in the West, where residents move to newly developed land at triple the per-acre density of any other part of the country.

And almost half of the 15 densest "urbanized areas" are in Northern California:

rank"urbanized area"people per square mile
2San Francisco-Oakland7,004.3
3San Jose5,914.1
--2000 United States Census via Washington Post

But numbers do not tell all, as density can indicate both luxury and hardship:

In upper-income quarters of metro Los Angeles, density can be an aesthetic kick. When wedded to smart design and careful planning, it is a high-energy stimulant for suburban ennui, luring high-end stores, protecting open space and paying for toll roads that reduce traffic. But in poorer parts of the region, especially where large immigrant families have settled, density is a just fancy word for severe overcrowding.

And the fact that the top 15 list includes most of the Bay Area, even the decidedly unurban Fairfield and Tracy, does not mean this region contains no sprawl. Density is quantitative; sprawl is qualitative. When neighborhoods are indistinguishable from another when citizens needs cars to go everywhere, when "public" space is overwhelmingly located on private property, and when each unit of land use consumes so much land as to deplete land supply and force land prices upward, population density alone will make little difference on whether a community is "sprawling."

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