Dead Ends: Managing Urban Density

Eran Chen | ODA

The tower has helped manage urban density, but it often fails to honor qualities of life on the street. Now we have the opportunity to change that.

An inherent problem with vertical living is that it draws people away from the ground. While humans lift off into space for travel, exploration, and adventure, most of life is still captured at ground-level. Yet, as the density of people, places, and things increases on Earth, we look to the sky for new ways to live.

Manhattan in the 1930s. 422–424 Lenox Avenue, Harlem

Before the vertical boom, life was enjoyed in a continuous loop—from inside to outside and back again. I remember growing up in Israel, living around a courtyard that captured life and connected residents: kids playing in the garden, mothers cooking a few flights up, elderly people sitting by their windows so they wouldn’t feel alone. These were the qualities of life in a city before scale imposed its limitations.

Back then, when low-rise buildings and townhomes sprawled across cities, the front door was a thin veil between life at home and the world booming beyond four walls. People were physically connected to both inside and outside in ways that felt organic, natural, and full of choice. Whether reaching through a door to shake hands with a neighbor or bounding across rooftops from one block to the next, like I did in my youth, a unique tether between interior and exterior was forged, one that appeals to the innate human desire to connect, continue, and reconnect.

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