Dissecting density


Per Square Mile is a blog about density. It’s about what happens when people live like packed sardines. It’s also about what happens when people live so far apart they can go days without seeing another soul. It’s about living amongst trees and prairies and living in places miles away from them. It’s about the trees and the prairies, too. And lakes and streams and animals and insects. In short, this is a blog about density of all types.

I started thinking about density in earnest a little over six years ago when I moved to San Francisco from St. Paul, Minnesota. St. Paul itself was a big leap from my college days (small-town Minnesota) and my childhood (small-town Wisconsin), but it didn’t compare to what San Francisco held in store. At 17,323 people per square mile, bodies seemed to be crawling over each other. I couldn’t step foot outside of my apartment without seeing another person. That had never happened to me before, and it had a profound impact on the way I think about space.

Since then, I’ve pored over density figures for the places I’ve lived or considered living. Personal sanity is only a part of this obsession; environmental awareness is another. I moved to San Francisco for graduate school, specifically a PhD in environmental science. The coincidence of my study of landscape ecology and the shock of high-density living ended up being a happy one—the PhD process gave me the framework and background to thoughtfully consider my environs.

For years I have been debating with myself about the benefits of small town life—slower pace, open spaces, nearby wilderness—and the things I admire about big cities—mass transit, energy efficiency, and intellectual vibrancy. Up until now, these debates have been little more than daydreams and thought exercises. But with this here fancy blog, I intend to explore density more fully, both scientifically and philosophically. I probably won’t cover all there is to know about cities, towns, and their relationship with the natural world, but I might as well try.

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