New York versus Los Angeles — density

New York is the obvious example of dense, compact urban development in the United States. Los Angeles is often offered as a prime example of urban sprawl. I made the argument in the preceding post that low-density development is a key aspect of urban sprawl. So let’s compare densities of the two areas.

First, we’ll compare the densities of the two cities themselves, the population densities within the city limits of New York City and the City of Los Angeles (all figures are from the 2010 Census):

  • New York City density: 27,013 persons per square mile
  • City of Los Angeles density: 8,092 persons per square mile

This is hardly a surprise. No statistics were needed for this; anyone who has ever seen both cities would see the difference as reasonable.

But this is just looking are the areas within the city limits. The urban areas are much larger. Sprawl is something we associate with the suburban portions of our urban areas. Indeed, the term “suburban sprawl” is often used in place of urban sprawl. To make a reasonable comparison, we should look at the densities of the entire urban areas. For this purpose, it is most reasonable to calculate densities for the census Urbanized Areas, the built-up portions of the metropolitan area. (It doesn’t make sense to include arbitrary additions of rural land included in the Metropolitan Statistical Areas.). So here are the densities for the two Urbanized Areas:

  • New York Urbanized Area density: 5,319 persons per square mile
  • Los Angeles Urbanized Area density: 6,999 persons per square mile

Now things look very different. The Los Angeles Urbanized Area has a much higher density than the New York Urbanized Area. Indeed, Los Angeles has the highest population density of any Urbanized Area in the country.

I am certainly not the first to make this comparison of the densities in the Urbanized Areas. But I would like to take this a step further. If sprawl is something especially associated with the “suburban” portions of urban areas, then it might make sense to calculate and compare the densities of these areas. In other words, subtract out the populations and land areas of the two major cities and calculate the densities of the remainding areas:

  • New York suburbs (Urbanized Area outside city) density: 3,233 persons per square mile
  • Los Angeles suburbs (Urbanized Area outside city) density: 6,595 persons per square mile

The population density in the suburban parts of the Los Angeles area is just over twice the density in suburban New York. Of course this was implied by the previous two comparisons for the cities and the Urbanized Areas. But the magnitude of the difference is still very striking.

I am not presenting these comparisons with the intent of drawing some grand conclusions–just as food for thought.


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