Los Angeles, California is currently dealing with a rapid increase in population density. The last Census Bureau findings determined that LA is the most densely populous urban area in the United States. It has nearly 7,000 people per square mile. This puts it well ahead of all other major metropolitan areas such as San Francisco, New York, Chicago, and Philadelphia.

Population density refers to both the number of people living in each unit of areas well as the city’s degree of compactness. This is measured by the ratio of people and buildings to available land. While high population density strains existing resources and creates multiple issues for a city, it also presents historic opportunities for engineers to engage in creative problem solving and innovation. If used as a model in other communities, these innovative measures will benefit not just the LA area, but urban areas throughout the world.

There are several key issues surrounding the increase in Los Angeles’ population density, which engineers are combating by embracing new perspectives, technology, and green building techniques.

Housing

Increased population density is leading to housing shortages. One report states that Los Angeles has a gap of nearly 600,000 units needed to accommodate the needs of low-income renters.  Many areas in California aren’t approving housing quickly enough to account for the increasing population. In the past, single-family homes were the traditional, standard model for housing. There is also a lack of land available to build single family homes for every family.

Forward-thinking engineers are prioritizing projects to focus on multifamily residential properties. These can house two or more families due to more efficient and intelligent design features, making better use of a space that may have been used for a smaller number in the past.

Smart home technology is also a developing trend that’s increasing housing quality. Houses with automated systems that lessen the difficulty of routine household tasks such as cleaning and monitoring energy usage are increasing the livability of all kinds of houses. They’re increasing the comfort and usefulness of these houses as well. Building more of these more efficient homes allows people to make better use of a smaller amount of space, helping to alleviate the strains of higher population density.

The development of multifamily, environmentally friendly housing featuring smart technology will help give more people affordable housing and lessen the carbon footprint of that new housing on the environment.

Infrastructure

As populations grow and cities expand to accommodate their new residents, it tests the ability of the city’s existing infrastructure to function effectively. A sudden rise in population density may occur faster than cities can update their vital systems such as roadways, power grids, sewers, water, and waste management. When cities fail to adapt these systems it can cause the infrastructure to degrade quickly over a long term period of time. Once infrastructure begins to degrade, it becomes less effective and can have disastrous consequences if not improved or updated.

Sustaining urban infrastructure is one area where engineers need to get creative. One possible solution is building amenities in close proximity to each other. Less driving from one area to another to access these areas will mean less wear and tear on the highways and other roadways. It also leads to less pollution and carbon emissions.

The “Yes, In My Backyard” (or YIMBY) movement is backed by people who promote housing developments in their cities as opposed to the more restrictive “Not In My Backyard” (or NIMBY) movements of old.  YIMBY efforts are encouraging the development of more houses. While this can increase density, it also lessens the chances of urban sprawl or the uncontrolled expansion of urban areas. Creating less new infrastructure means less infrastructure the cities will have to maintain and improve.

Transportation

More people living in an urban means more people needing transportation. This leads to more cars on the roadways and higher carbon emissions. The latest scientific reports show that increased carbon emissions can have disastrous impacts on the environment. It can also lead to more automobile accidents. When engineers can find creative ways to have fewer cars on the road, it has a positive impact on both the environment and community.

Improving public transportation through a focus on “green engineering” is a critical component of any plan to address overarching population density impacts on transportation. That means promoting building infrastructure such as EV parking and bike storage; creating roads that are pedestrian and bike friendly will take some of those drivers off the roads. It means having structural engineers examining existing highways and determining how to add additional high occupancy vehicle lanes to encourage carpooling.

As electric vehicles become more popular and commonplace with the onset of “green engineering,” engineers have opportunities to get even more creative in the placement and frequency of electric vehicle charging stations. As this sustainable technology becomes more prevalent, drivers will need more options to charge them.

Public Health

More people in a given area means more health concerns. From a wellness perspective, more dense populations can lead to a population that is less fit and less likely to stay active, as they are shuttled from their home to their office in a car while commuting through dense traffic for hours each day.

Engineers are looking into building spaces – both public and semi-private – where the community encourages its residents to stay fit and active. This could manifest itself as more sidewalks, trails, or general walking areas made available within the community. It could also mean incorporating more gyms in multi-family residences and shopping centers.

Engineers incorporating green building practices in LA stand to help their urban communities dealing with population density issues as well as the environment. There are multiple potential benefits available with regard to housing shortages, impacts to critical infrastructure, transportation, and public health concerns.

These solutions are all interrelated as well. For example, more people using sidewalks to get to and from where they need to go means fewer cars on the road. That means fewer carbon emissions as well as improved physical fitness for the person walking.

Using the skill, ingenuity, and forethought of engineers to harness the power of green engineering can go a long way towards lessening the impact of Los Angeles’s high population density. In time this can make the city cleaner, safer, and easier to live in for more of its citizens.