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Maximizing Our Living Space

Maximizing Our Living Space

By 2050 the population in North Texas is expected to reach nearly 12 million. As director of the School of Architecture’s new Center for Metropolitan Density, Clinical Professor Michael Buckley explores how to make the most of the growing region’s space while identifying national and global trends in urban development.

The center began work in spring 2011. What are its goals?

This is a new interdisciplinary research platform. I believe that high density is the answer to growth. The trouble is, people have varying ideas about what it means. The metrics of higher densities and increased economic productivity are not understood at all. The center’s mission is to prove the benefits of high density in the metropolitan setting through research, education, and consulting. Little research exists on urban growth or the benefits of higher density environments. No other university looks at this in quite the same way.

Why be concerned about density?

The model is very clear about what North Texas could become: a sprawling, undifferentiated metro area such as Los Angeles or Phoenix. No air quality. Commuter time that has gone up dramatically. This region has to decide on the character it wants. Our urban regions are going to grow. If they densify, that means the little town center goes from one or two stories tall to three or four stories, and that means half the land is saved. I’m not talking about going high-rise, but increasing the density. Live within a district or village center, have more choices in types of dwellings. Instead of the two-dimensional zoning we have now, have three-dimensional planning and design.

What’s wrong with sprawl?

We want to make sure sprawl is not the only choice. We can consume all the flat land, have eight-lane highways each way, and drive at an average speed of 35 miles per hour as in Los Angeles. You could say that we have so much land in North Texas and that you can drive easily. But you may not want to drive at 35 miles per hour and at $6-a-gallon gasoline.

What are the potential benefits of high-density cities or regions?

Higher densities are more sustainable and energy responsible, which are social goals, and are enormously more valuable, not only to the cities as revenue generators, but also for the private sector as investments. How to prove that is another story. If we can prove that, the center will be a valuable research platform that can influence growth patterns.