New Study Shows Humans Are "Hard-Wired" For Density


Image credit Tim De Chant
David Owen and Edward Glaeser tell us that density is a good thing, and that the closer together people live, the less energy they use per capita. Richard Florida tells us that it makes us more creative. Now Tim de Chant tells us that it was ever thus; he writes that Hunter-gatherer populations show humans are hardwired for density.

He writes at Per Square Mile, discussing the study Nonlinear scaling of space use in human hunter-gatherers:

The benefits of living close to other people are evident even to hunter-gatherers. Though their societies have changed over the millennia, studying characteristics of present-day hunter-gatherers can let us peer into the past. That's what was done by three anthropologists--Marcus Hamilton, Bruce Milne, and Robert Walker--and one ecologist--Jim Brown. In the process, they seem to have discovered a fundamental law that drives human agglomeration. Though their survey of 339 present-day hunter-gatherer societies doesn't explicitly mention cities, it does show that as populations grow, people tend to live closer together--much closer together. For every doubling of population, the home ranges of hunter-gatherer groups increased by only 70 percent.

Tim De Chant reaches a conclusion that will make Joel Kotkin choke: That it is just more efficient and productive to live closely together at higher densities.

Every additional person requires less land than the previous one. That's an important statement. Not only does it say we're hardwired for density, it also says a group becomes 15 percent more efficient at extracting resources from the land every time their population doubles. Each successive doubling in turn frees up 15 percent more resources to be directed towards something other than hunting and gathering. In other words, complex societies didn't just evolve as a way to cope with high-density--they evolved in part because of high density.

More on Urban Density and Cities:
New Study Says Young People Want Apartments, Not Houses; iPhones, Not Cars
Packed Like Sardines - Density is Good

Follow me on Twitter! @lloydalter and friend me on Facebook

Tags: Urban Life | Urban Planning

Best of TreeHugger