Everyone has an opinion about density and height, however the relationship between the two is often misinterpreted and misused. Which is why it’s crucial to understand the differences and realize they are NOT the same thing.
For the purpose of zoning, density measures the number of Units per Acre. It is the determining parameter that dictates how many units can be built in proportion to the size of the lot. Density is measured as Developable Units per Acre (DUA)
Height simply refers to the actual vertical extent of a structure, measured from the sidewalk to the top of the building. Some zoning codes establish a maximum building heights and other codes, like the Miami 21, set a maximum number of floors (14’ maximum per floor).
To summarize, Density is about the number of units and Height is about scale.
Here is where it gets confusing, because you can have density without height, or even height without density. So in other words, you can have a short building with more smaller-units or a tall building with fewer bigger-units.
The effects of Height are pretty clear, but Density in particular can have a huge impact on a community and city alike. If done right, it can help with numerous things including
- Reduce carbon foot print
- Reduce sprawl
- Improve public health
- Promote affordable housing
- Increase safety
- Promote use of public transit
So what is the right amount of height or density? The short answer is, it all depends on the context and what make sense for that neighborhood. The most important part is that we understand the differences between density and height so that we can have that conversation.
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