The statistical wonks with the StatChat blog love to depict data in interesting ways. Recently, Luke Juday divvied the Commonwealth into thirds divided by density. In the map above, the yellow mass shows the least densely populated census tracts (fewer than 736 people per square mile), accounting for 94.8% of the state’s land mass. The light green census tracts show the middle third (between 736 and 3,562 per square mile), accounting for 4% of the land mass. Dark green (more than 3,562 per square mile) accounts for 1.2% of the state’s land area. Another way of looking at it: 2/3 of the population lives in 5% of the state’s land mass.
“High density” by Virginia standards doesn’t look like Manhattan. Take the Belmont area in Charlottesville. As Juday observes, it’s a neighborhood of mainly single-family houses with a few apartment buildings and stores thrown in. Average density: 5,700 people per square mile.
Writes Juday: “The homes occupy smaller lots and are arranged efficiently via a street grid. The grid makes the area convenient for walking by minimizing travel distance rather than driving time. While most trips in a neighborhood like this will still involve a car, the distances traveled by the cars are shorter. Parking is shared and more dispersed, further conserving space.”
Bacon’s bottom line: Higher density in Virginia doesn’t require packing people into apartment complexes and forcing them onto mass transit. What it takes is building more walkable neighborhoods like Belmont. We could save a lot more farmland, woodland and wildlife habitat. We could reduce expenditure on infrastructure dollars (or, conversely, provide better infrastructure for the dollars we spend). We could reduce driving, energy consumption and CO2 emissions. And we don’t have to enact a slew of new laws and regulations that add more bureaucracy and constrict economic liberty. We just need to remember revive an arcane knowledge — how to build neighborhoods like Belmont — that we once knew.
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