Shared lessons: cities, spaces, equity

Historically, urban success has been rooted in high densities: the concentration of many people in small areas. Bringing people and their economic activities into close proximity with each other can be economically and even socially liberating.

Getting density right presents major challenges, however, and history is also littered with urban failures. This website is devoted to showing how the challenges of urban density can be met. How can tightly contained, heavily populated, shared spaces be made to work best – for residents and for the natural systems that cities depend on?

The launch of www.urbandensity.org by IIED and UNFPA coincided with the release of results from a study by Arif Hasan, Asiya Sadiq and Suneela Ahmed that presents a new approach to planning for urban density. The examples are from four settlements in Karachi, Pakistan, but the lessons apply to much of urban Asia, and beyond.

They relate to one of Asia’s biggest hurdles: finding homes for the rapidly growing population of low-income urban dwellers.

Almost half a billion additional people are being added to Asia’s urban population every decade. For the majority, developer-built high-rises are not the answer, however carefully planned and designed. Nor is the spontaneous densification of informal settlements.

Luckily, as Hasan and his colleagues show, there are alternatives that combine the advantages of incremental, community-friendly development with those of good design and long-term planning. If sufficient land can be made available in the right locations, such approaches could help turn urbanisation into one of Asia’s biggest opportunities.

Watch a short film

introducing the settlements studied and summarising the main conclusions.

Read an overview

of the topic and the study.

Read case studies

describing each of the four settlements.

View image galleries

for each case study, containing:
> photographs of existing conditions
> satellite images and density mapping
> 3D computer remodellings that show how high density could be achieved in tandem with enhanced social and physical environments. 

Download documents

> an opinion paper presenting the views of study leader Arif Hasan
> a longer working paper in which the leading researchers present the results in summary form
> the full report, which provides a more comprehensive but less polished account of the study.