The Impact of Residential Densification on Perceptions of Public Space: A Field Experiment

Jordi Honey-Rosés, Oscar Zapata

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review


Problem, research strategy, and findings: City leaders are under pressure to increase urban residential density to provide affordable housing and meet sustainability objectives. Yet despite the advantages of urban densification, communities throughout North America persistently oppose new developments and housing projects in their neighborhoods. The impact of residential densification on the quality of life for existing residents is ambiguous. In this study we focus on measuring the impact of one key aspect of urban densification: the perceived quality of public space. We use an experimental design to increase pedestrians and stationary users in a pedestrianized green street for randomly selected periods over 3 weeks. We collected surveys with and without our pedestrian treatment and find that adding users to a residential street decreased the perceived quality of the space overall. The changes in perceptions were small yet significant and illustrate the real tradeoffs that planners must consider when increasing urban density in cities, especially in lower density residential communities. Takeaway for practice: Increasing the number of public users in a residential neighborhood may slightly decrease the perceived quality of the public space. Women’s perceptions differ from those of men, and women are more sensitive to the addition of public users. We illustrate how planners may use public life experiments to anticipate how the public might respond to future changes in the public realm.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)282-295
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of the American Planning Association
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 3 Apr 2021


  • crowding
  • densification
  • experiment
  • public space
  • upzoning


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