02/24/2013 02:39 EST | Updated 04/25/2013 05:12 EDT

Re-defining the D-Word: 'Density Done Well' in Vancouver


Density can be the most controversial aspect of how cities and communities are planned. It's often nicknamed "the D-Word" because some politicians still actually try to avoid using it in a sentence, and "the third rail of municipal politics" because many prefer not to touch it.

But what I call "Density Done Well" is critically important for any city to avoid the damaging effects of sprawl, while solving our city's toughest challenges, from mitigating climate change, to supporting urban health, energy resiliency, affordability, economic success, creativity, safety, vibrancy and so on. It can make your city much better, in many important ways.

For these reasons and more, despite the political challenges, smart and successful cities worldwide are now tackling the D-Word head on, and looking to model cities who have learned how to do density well, often with the scars to show for it.

Vancouver is such a city, studied and debated globally, not just for our downtown, but for our city and region-wide efforts.

Recently, the Downtown Seattle Association invited me to speak on the subject, to an audience of more than 1,000 people at their annual State of the Downtown Forum. Using our successes and challenges in Vancouver as a model, here's what every city can learn to make the D-Word a cornerstone for successful city-making:


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