The subject of density in Los Angeles has been garnering a significant amount of attention in recent weeks. The Census Bureau recently released new population figures that showed the Los Angeles area (not city) is the densest region in the United States. The figures, which showed the Los Angeles region (#1) ahead of New York (#5) in terms of density, brought a slew of media attention to the issue. The issues of density vs. sprawl, Manhattanization, and city character in Los Angeles were all the subject of speculation in light of the newest density figures.
While the figures perhaps signal some sort of tipping point for LA, it’s important to remember that these are regional comparisons and not comparisons of the cities. The City of New York can still boast as being the densest big city in America. In fact, it is 3 times as dense as the City of Los Angeles. But comparisons aside, one thing is clear: Los Angeles is a decidedly urban city. A city to city comparison is an interesting exercise, but for the purposes of the Mobility Element we are interested in the varying densities within the City.
This map depicts the City’s population density in terms of numbers of persons per acre for each of the City’s Census blocks.
Often mischaracterized as sprawling and lower-density, Los Angeles as a whole has a population density of 12.64 persons per acre (over 8,000 per square mile), which makes the City one of the densest in the United States. By comparison, Chicago houses 18 inhabitants per acre, San Francisco 27, and famously dense New York City boasts 42 persons per acre. However, density in Los Angeles is not uniform across the City. Westlake (75 per/acre), Koreatown (67), East Hollywood (55) are a few of the densest neighborhoods in Los Angeles, while Pacific Palisades (2), Bel-Air (2.5), and Chatsworth (7 per/acre) are examples of neighborhoods with lower densities.
An interesting point of comparison with the density data is the location of the City’s concentration of job clusters.
This map shows the major employment clusters found throughout the City. Compared to other major U.S. cities with a single dominant downtown such as New York, San Francisco, or Chicago, Los Angeles has a collection of smaller employment, education, retail, and entertainment centers spread throughout the City. The map shows significant clusters in Downtown, Westwood, Century City, Warner Center and around LAX and USC. An interesting pattern of linear mixed-use centers also emerge on the map, particularly along Wilshire, Ventura Boulevard, and along the two rail corridors in the Valley. What the map does not show are the other major regional clusters found in Glendale, Pasadena, Santa Monica, and Long Beach, all of which significantly impact the City’s transportation system.
Together these maps illustrate the polycentric nature of Los Angeles and help explain why traffic congestion in Los Angeles is some of the worst in the nation. Providing adequate transit for the City’s residents to, from, and between all of the many centers in and around the City of Los Angeles is a significant and costly challenge.