Since New York City emerged as a hotspot for COVID-19, government leaders and other prominent figures have implicated density as a reason for the growth of the pandemic in the city. Yet “density” is a catchall term that encapsulates many aspects of urban life.
In a new report, CHPC finds that residential population density is not a key determinant of the impacts of COVID-19. Across the New York City area and nationwide, patterns of population density, measured by the average number of residents living per sq. mi., diverge significantly from per capita rates of virus cases.
We need to stop blaming density for the COVID-19 pandemic in NYC. Blaming density is not helpful to the creation of virus mitigation strategies and could have detrimental impacts on the city’s ability to recover, by contributing to an unfounded public fear of living in dense places.
Dense, urban areas can provide many benefits in times of crisis, such as more services and amenities within walking distance or without leaving one’s home, concentrations of medical facilities and talent that can increase capacity for care, and decreased risk of isolation for seniors and vulnerable individuals. If cities are no longer seen as safe and attractive places to live, New Yorkers will be at risk of losing these benefits and many more. Meanwhile, small businesses will fail, New Yorkers will struggle to regain their livelihood, and public services and infrastructure could falter.
In Density & COVID-19 in New York City, CHPC parses out the different aspects of density; examines how each could have played a role in the COVID-19 pandemic; highlights gaps in existing data and underscores data needs; and recommends next steps for the city’s recovery towards a healthier and safer future.