Document Type

Working Paper

Publication Date



City planning, Cities snd towns -- Growth, Regional planning -- United States, Population density -- Management, Urban planning -- United States


This essay expresses concern that urban growth management places too heavy a reliance on densification, particularly upzoning with minimum density requirements in suburban infill situations. Increasing densities may be appropriate when other aspects of urban development can be controlled through urban design. However, evidence provided here indicates that mandating density reduces land consumption, but does not achieve other objectives of growth management, particularly street connectivity, greater use of alternative modes of transportation, and more housing choices. This analysis finds that upzoning and requiring minimum-densities, when used to regulate suburban residential infill developments, is not effective in producing quality compact development. Instead it is resulting in small-lot single-family developments that can only be accessed by cul-de-sac designs augmented by shared driveways. Incentive based approaches to increase density may be preferable. This analysis raises concern about placing too much emphasis on densification as a policy tool for “smart growth.” Too much attention and effort is expended on increasing density of development and there is little evidence of benefits of doing so. The positive aspects of density results from favorable market forces, rather than regulatory forces.


Catalog Number DP02-2.

Published by Center for Urban Studies, College of Urban and Public Affairs, Portland State University.

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