Saturday, 15 March 2014

San Francisco and Los Angeles density comparison

San Francisco and Los Angeles are two cities that are often contrasted. San Francisco has often been held up as an ideal of urbanism in the United States, while Los Angeles has for a long time been regarded as a prime example of auto-centric sprawl. That the two are both California cities, and both have relatively similar densities today at the urban area level makes the contrast in their reputations all the more interesting.

Here is a comparison of the two, similar to an earlier blog post comparing Montreal and Philadelphia.

San Francisco's urban area includes east bay communities such as Oakland in its 1950 numbers. Oakland had relatively similar densities to Los Angeles, maybe a bit denser, while San Francisco itself was significantly denser. Census tracts had not yet been created for San Mateo county, so it is not included in the 1950 numbers. Los Angeles' urban area at that time covered most of Los Angeles County and was more than twice as populous as San Francisco-Oakland.

Perhaps Los Angeles' lower density and more spread out nature made it easier to retrofit for the automobile.

However, for various reasons, probably largely tied to land constraints and congestion, but likely also increases in household sizes, Los Angeles' urban area got a bit denser, the only major American urban area to do so (San Jose did too, but was quite small in 1950).

The change is not huge, Los Angeles mostly still has a fairly similar density pattern, with the most common density being around 9,000-10,000 ppsm. The number of people living at higher densities of (20,000-50,000 ppsm) increased more than the number of people living at lower densities (1,000-5,000 ppsm). The current urban area includes most of Los Angeles and Orange County. It also includes the area from Chino Hills to Fontana in San Bernardino County.

Meanwhile, San Francisco's urban area decreased in density, albeit not as much as most American urban areas. The 2010 urban area as defined by the census bureau is rather limitted in extent, excluding Santa Clara County (since San Jose is considered a separate MSA) and excluding the I-680 corridor since it is not contiguous with the rest of the East Bay (due to mountains), nor does it include anything north of San Pablo Bay.

San Francisco did increase the amount of higher density, though mostly at 10,000-30,000 ppsm and not for 30,000+ ppsm, but the increase in the amount of people living at lower densities was greater.

The result is that the current density distribution of both areas is very similar, although Los Angeles' urban area is of course much more populous.


Los Angeles 1950
Population: 3,827,734
Area: 781 sq mi
Standard Density: 4,903 ppsm
Weighted Density: 9,202 ppsm

Population over 20,000 ppsm: 232,297
Population over 10,000 ppsm: 1,433,382

San Francisco 1950
Population: 1,509,471
Urban Area: 135 sq mi
Standard Density: 11,156 ppsm
Weighted Density: 21,466 ppsm

Population over 20,000 ppsm: 518,626
Population over 10,000 ppsm: 1,156,478

Los Angeles 2010
Population: 12,150,996
Urban Area: 1,736 sq mi
Standard Density:  6,999 ppsm
Weighted Density: 12,543 ppsm

Population over 20,000 ppsm: 1,957,346
Population over 10,000 ppsm: 6,263,357

San Francisco 2010
Population: 3,281,212
Urban Area: 524 sq mi
Standard Density: 6,266 ppsm
Weighted Density: 14,740 ppsm

Population over 20,000 ppsm: 746,826
Population over 10,000 ppsm: 1,742,547

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