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Last week I posted an article in LinkedIn that analyzed how land costs in South Florida are so high that it was forcing developers to building further and further away from the urban cores. As part of my post I stated that we needed to increase density and build more public transportation. Shortly after posting, I received a comment that I thought was very interesting and wanted to share it with you.

The comment was the following:

“Density is a simplistic answer to a complex problem. How many humans can you pack into an acre of land? How do you install public transit that will not lose money?”

I responded with following:

As far as how many people you can fit in an acre, it really depends where that acre of land is located.

Zoning codes usually establish the permitted density of a specific parcel. Here in Miami that ranges from 8 Developable-Units-Per-Acre (DUA) to 1000 in Downtown. This has created two extremes, on one end you have single family homes and high-rise condos on the other; with nothing much in between. This is often referred to as the “missing middle” by urbanist. This scale of building is not being developed because they can’t fit enough units and parking requirement are too high. By allowing greater density you can fit smaller more affordable units in less land.

A common misconception by people is that they correlate tall buildings with high density, and in fact they are not proportional. Miami’s densest neighborhood is Little Havana which is composed of 3-5 story buildings with no parking. A good amount of these building where built in the first half of the 20th century and have a density of 130-150 DUA. Today this land is zoned for 36 DUA, and not much is being developed. In contrast, the typical high-rise condo in Downtown has about 50-70 DUA.

With regards to public transit it depends what do you mean by PROFITABLEprofitable for the City or the riders that use it? I would rather ask; how can you make public transit successful?

To make a public transit system successful you need RIDERSHIP. To get ridership you need a functional system, density and encourage people out of their cars. Right now it is too easy to have a car; all buildings require parking, street parking is cheap, free roads, and cheap gas all contribute to this.

Cities need to recognized that providing public transit is the same as selling a service, just like any other business. In order to be successful you need an effective, reliable, and efficient system. A failing restaurant can either close down or fix their flaws and improve their product. The same applies to cities and public transit.

The other layer to all this is that Transit Oriented Developments (TODs) need to be established around transit hubs to create the critical mass needed to have a successful public transit system. TOD regulations lax zoning requirements to incentivize high density development and the use of transit.

For those interested in the article about land costs here it is: