Friday, 3 October 2014

The impossibility of “efficient density”

The problem of the vast disparity in available land space versus population in Australia compared to the rest of the world is something seldom said but which I have emphasised – in case you are not familiar this site is the basic place to look to see how enormous a supply of land Australia has. Personal experience and reading has long made me suspicious that dense Enriched World neighbourhoods are in any way “liveable” – besides being unaffordable they are extremely crowded and noisy.

The claim that low-denity rural-style living as most Australians (although, most likely due to Enriched World farm subsidies, few actually farm) tends to reduce social interaction is one I have long been suspicious of both from personal experience and from reading books such as Arthur Brooks’ Who Really Cares: The Surprising Truth about Compassionate Conservatism — America’s Charity Divide, Who Gives, Who Doesn’t, and Why It Matters. Nonetheless, whilst I intuitively thought that social interaction in flat, sprawling Australian cities must be much greater than in constrained, mountainous, high-density Enriched World cities, I never had any clear evidence.

However, Jan Brückner and Ann Largey – in a very poorly-styled and badly-written article and focusing only on the United States – have clearly shown that, as I expected, low-density “Australian” cities have much greater social interaction than high-density “Enriched” cities. Their article ‘Social Interaction and Urban Sprawl’, although lacking the most basic elements of writing style like given results in the introduction (which it does not) or clear tables showing the expected results of how high density creates noise and fear (which is again absent) and taking numerous reads to merely understand results in the final table, shows clearly how limited the group involvement of high-density “Enriched”-style cities is, and that group involvement is strongly correlated with the presence of school-age children which cannot be affordably reared in crowded, noisy Enriched World cities. Moreover, Brückner and Largey confirm Brooks’ simultaneous findings about the extreme selfishness of welfare recipients – who are the least likely of all groups to engage in group activities or even non-religious clubs.

Brückner’s and Largey’s final note is that:
With a negative effect of density on interaction, individual space consumption would tend to be too low rather than too high, tending to make cities inefficiently compact, as explained in section 2.
This, indeed, may be why Australian cities do not sprawl to the extremely low densities (less than 100 people per km2) the land supply would permit, because:
“Thus, the empirical results suggest that social-interaction effects may counteract, rather than exacerbate, the well-recognized forces (such as unpriced traffic congestion) that cause cities to overexpand.”
This would imply strong social and family interactions in Australian cities that the Enriched World (and even more the Tropical) lack the land to achieve serve to limit sprawl. It is virtually certain, too, that these strong social ties create higher religiosity and combine therewith to greatly reduce ideological materialism and individualism in Australian suburbs and exurbs vis-à-vis their complete dominance in the Enriched and Tropical Worlds.

The problem facing the Enriched World is that, although individual space consumption is too low, the region has much too little flat land to increase space consumption to the levels actually or potentially possible in Australia under Abbott. Even in low-sediment regions where building on steep slopes is low-risk in terms of water quality and erosion, there is very little land relative to population compared to Australia’s three people per square kilometre. In most of Asia, southern and central Europe, and the western Americas, the situation is much worse again, as tectonically active mountains make “minimum lot sizes” advocated at the end of section 2 out of the question due to major potential erosion problems and higher value for species diversity.

These simple facts suggest that Brückner’s and Largey’s theory of a socially efficient density is impractical in the Enriched World – at all events once the discovery of the role of chalcophile elements as biological catalysts allowed the correction of their severe deficiency in the Australian environment and the discovery of current electricity permitted smelting the abundant lithophile elements enriched in the Australian environment. Christianity, especially in its most radical Anabaptist forms, certainly was very successful at countering the natural individualism and egalitarianism of European and American environments before these discoveries and thus limiting the demand for space.

Abundance of noise resulting from extreme scarcity of space in Enriched World cities undoubtedly makes it impossible to maintain the rituals of traditional Abrahamic and Dharmic religions (which require deep silence). Along with, as Brückner and Largey briefly note, alternative forms of “entertainment” or “ritual” to religion and family gatherings like:
  1. political protests or activist movements
  2. live music, cinema or theatre
  3. live sport or games
tend to concentrate in the highest-density cities. They would also be more easily heard in a noisy environment with low sound attenuation, and history shows these alternatives have shaped the dense cities of the Enriched World as strongly atheistic and politically liberal. There is no political or practical possibility of this changing: in fact opinion polls suggest it is intensifying with the Millennial Generation and will further deplete the Enriched and Tropical World’s limited social capital.

Brückner and Largey – naturally – ignore the massive global pollution costs Australian suburbs impose, given that their greenhouse emissions per capita are four or more times higher than social-capital-depleted Enriched and Tropical World cities. If these costs were taken into account, Australian densities might rise if its suburbanites be willing to accept the large costs that must be paid, but as Melissa Sweet points out, that is almost impossible since the sacrifices in privacy and comfort of having by law to travel in crowded trains or buses is something history shows they will not accept – even without higher taxes on income and fuel to pay for it.

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