How Density Affects Disasters

East Coast Begins To Clean Up And Assess Damage From Hurricane Sandy

Vishaan Chakrabarti argues that urban areas recover from calamities more quickly than suburbs do:

In the aftermath of Sandy, higher-density neighborhoods with centralized infrastructure such as underground power and mass transit generally fared better and recovered more quickly than lower-density areas. It is particularly telling that in the aftermath of Sandy, higher-density neighborhoods – from downtown Brooklyn and Battery Park City up to Harlem – were up and running within a week. By contrast, lower density areas like Staten Island and Breezy Point – with their single-family homes, elevated power lines, timber construction, and auto-dependency – took longer to recover. Dense conditions come with a greater number of redundancies, a fundamental characteristic of resiliency. Most residents of high-density areas don’t rely on a single hospital or one grocery store. Instead, they have a network of them, allowing one or a few to malfunction without creating a system failure.

(Photo: Two days after Hurricane Sandy, New Yorkers crowd into a Chase Bank ATM kiosk one block north of where power has gone out in Manhattan. “This is the modern campfire,” one man said. By Andrew Burton/Getty Images)