Place:Non-Place Ratio
September 29, 2014

At the Strong Towns National Gathering I gave a rapid 8 minute presentation on walkability and the scale of the environment, which included a piece on Places and Non-Places. If you attended my presentation or have read my previous blog post on Places and Non-Places, you will know that I categorize land use into either Places or Non-Places. Places are destinations - parks, plazas, and building interiors - while non-places are the padding between destinations - highways, parking lots, and greenspace. From a walkability perspective, Non-Places use up valuable land area without contributing anything. Some Non-Places are neccessary infrastructure, but a good city planner should attempt to minimize the amount of land assigned to Non-Places as much as possible.

During my presentation I showed a few examples where I took a satellite image off of Google Maps and hand coloured the Places in blue and the Non-Places in red. I have had multiple requests to share those examples so I am sharing them here. When we colour in the Places and Non-Places, we can get a really good idea of the contrast between the two, and if we count the number of red and blue pixels we can come up with a Place:Non-Place ratio.

Here is a neighbourhood in San Francisco;

Here are the Places and Non-Places;

There is a Place:Non-Place ratio of 406,550:95,689 or about 4.25:1 (81% place).

Here is downtown Pheonix;

Here are the Places and Non-Places;

There is a Place:Non-Place ratio of 334,027:368,354 or about 0.9:1 (48% place) which indicates that more land is used for Non-Places than Places.

Here is a commercial corridor in suburban Little Rock;

Here are the Places and Non-Places;

Out of curiosity, I came up with a Place:Non-Place ratio of 43,290:510,226 or about 0.08:1 (8.5% place), but to be fair, much of this land is underdeveloped and some of it is hard to judge, so I darkend the areas I was unsure about. The remaining bright red areas are all freeways, roads, parking lots, and greenspace;

There is a Place:Non-Place ratio of 27,370:288,178 or about 0.09:1 (9.5% place). We can see that there are very few places supporting all of that infrastructure around it. In the above example, 10.5 times more land is dedicated to Non-Places than Places! Is this even a financially viable way to build a city? No.

Compare those examples and ask yourself - which one is more more walkable (the topic of my talk)? Which one is getting their money's worth out of their infrastructure?

I encourage you to make maps like these of your own city. You can imply a lot from such a simple comparison.

Challenge your imagination - is it possible to build an environment that is 100% place?