When it comes to urban planning and development, the term "density" is often thrown around with a high degree of regularity. Though the word can evoke a wide range of visualizations and emotional responses, what exactly is meant by density and what can it tell us about Chicago’s built environment? To best understand current trends, urbanist writer Frank Kryzak not only compiled an easy-to-read map of the Windy City’s most dense neighborhoods, but also analyzed the role density can play in various communities throughout Chicago.
While some areas can have identical number of persons per acre density, the number of residential units per acre can differ greatly. Using the 2014 American Community Survey five year estimates, the recent map shows the number of housing units per census tract divided by area. To better illustrate the breakdown, the author streamlined the number of categories from five (pictured below left) down to three (right). The simplified version mirrors the commonly held conception of Chicago that most densely populated areas tend to be concentrated along the lakefront and the north side in places like Lincoln Park, Uptown, and Edgewater with a gradual drop-off as distances increase from the city’s central core.
While interesting, the raw numbers can only tell so much. Even when the unit per acre figures are the same, the density numbers are only part of the larger story when it comes to the built urban environment and how land is utilized and residents get around. To prove this point, the report contrasts how similarly dense tracts in North Center and Bronzeville can drastically vary when it comes to things like land use and walkability. This particular example, as well as others, can been seen in Frank Kryzak's full analysis here.