urban sustainability population density

Urban Sustainability: Engineering Solutions To The Increase In Los Angeles Population Density

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.


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.


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.


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.  

structural engineering chicago

How Structural Engineering Affects Your Daily Life

What's one of the best ways to tell if a system is running smoothly and efficiently? Ironically, it's when you don't notice it running at all. The benefits of effective structural engineering are embedded in the safety and efficiency of our daily lives. Often unnoticed, this rapidly changing field of engineering is constantly evolving via the influence of everything from artificial intelligence to exotic materials.

Structural engineers (SEs) help governments, institutions, developers and architects analyze the natural and man-made factors that impact a structure’s integrity and longevity. SEs design the elements that hold up buildings, tunnels, bridges, and more. They focus on maximizing safety and stability within the constraints of the construction project and the physical environment.

Their work is essential – a licensed structural engineer is required for every construction project. As a result, SEs play a role in a variety of projects that touch on every aspect of our lives.

How Structural Engineering Affects Your Daily Life

Withstanding The Forces Of Nature

Every building — from your local supermarket to the towering skyscrapers in your favorite city — requires a structural engineer's input in the design and analysis stage. To do this, SEs use their expertise to overcome environmental obstacles.


Structural engineers must take into account the amount of snowfall and ice a building will encounter and choose materials and construction techniques that will create the most supportive structure. As snow piles up on a rooftop, its weight exerts pressure on a building. Too much pressure from this type of load can cause the roof to cave in or the entire building to give out. To combat this, SEs calculate the snow load per square foot that a building will experience and design with this in mind. Each state sets its own minimum standards; for example in New Jersey, roofs must withstand snow loads of 21 pounds per square foot. This is the equivalent of a storm that occurs once every 50 years.

Several aspects of a building can detract from its safety in extremely cold weather such as the building’s orientation, the slope of the roof, different roof elevations. SEs will minimize the risks the building’s features pose while paying attention to features like roof drainage. In 2017, snowstorms caused $2.2 billion in property damage across the United States (source). Devastating statistics like this show how critical structural engineers are to maintaining normality. Effective structural engineers can save both lives and money by designing buildings to withstand ice and snowstorms.

High Winds

High winds can be destructive as they generate pressure against structures on a frequent basis. Skyscrapers can even be swayed from an especially strong gust! Hurricanes are one example of extremely of high winds, but structural engineers must also reinforce buildings against regular thunderstorms and windy days as these pose a constant threat to the long-term stability of a building. The intensity of this pressure is known as the wind load. Structural engineers use this load to design safer, more wind resistant buildings. The speed of potential winds, the height of the building, proximity to water, and proximity to other structures are key factors in the analysis. SEs also consult historical records and building codes to determine the level of support and strengthening required for a given project. Using predictive models, structural engineers can anticipate potential challenges and prevent life-threatening situations posed by high winds.


In general, there is at least 1 earthquake per day with a magnitude between 4.0 and 4.9. And twice a month an earthquake occurs with a magnitude between 5.0 and 5.9. Strong earthquakes (6.0+) rose in frequency in 2016 across the United States. Earthquakes can cause visible, extreme damage when the magnitude is high enough but even smaller seismic shifts can cause damage to architectural finishes over time. Structural engineers design to minimize seismic risk and maximize seismic performance. In other words, they seek to create structures that perform well during and after an earthquake, over long periods of time. An SE may assess seismic risk by testing a scale model of the building on a table that shakes to simulate earthquakes. Structural analysis software is also used to model how a building will hold up during an earthquake; it can also provide more detail on the safety of specific internal structures (beams, columns, etc.).

Structural Engineers anticipate the various ways a building can fail as a result of an earthquake, and implement structures that have the necessary strength, stiffness, and ductility to withstand the most likely sources of failure. States famous for earthquakes aren’t the only areas focusing on this type of protection. Earthquake patterns are changing each year due to natural developments and human activities. Now more than ever structural engineers are needed to ensure buildings can withstand earthquakes of any magnitude.

Transportation — Safe Bridges & Tunnels

From the famous Brooklyn Bridge of NYC to the iconic Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, bridges represent some of the most incredible feats of engineering that we encounter in our daily lives. The Golden Gate Bridge - along with its anchorages - weighs 894,500 tons. Its unique structure means that it can safely move up and down by 16 feet while remaining structurally sound.

Approximately 120,000 vehicles traverse the Golden Gate Bridge every single day. Across the world, millions of vehicles make use of bridges and tunnels that are fine-tuned to accommodate incredible traffic while withstanding even the most extreme weather conditions. SEs play a pivotal role in ensuring that bridges and tunnels can support these forces and provide safe transportation for all.

In addition to safety, two major benefits these well-engineered structures provide are freedom and flexibility. Efficient and safe transportation routes allow individuals to choose where they live, work, and socialize based on a variety of preferences. People have access to resources from a distance and don’t need to live within a certain mile radius to benefit from modernization. Travel between and within suburbs, cities, and states is not only possible, it’s effortless. Large trucks can carry resources long distances without creating damage due to heavy loads. Ships can pass through bridges designed to raise and lower with ease - meaning trade routes don’t interfere with day to day life. These conveniences are enjoyed daily but go unnoticed precisely because the systems are effectively engineered.

Environmental: Soil, Water & Sustainability

Before construction begins, a structural engineer analyzes the area to make sure it is suitable for the proposed building, tunnel or other structure. They'll make sure that the soil conditions are supportive and manage any unusual soil conditions. The result? Anything built on top of the land will remain level, stable, and have greater longevity.

Structural engineers work to ensure that groundwater sources aren't adversely impacted by structures. They also work with an eye towards sustainability in the future by analyzing materials’ efficiency, ability to be recycled, and environmental impact. For example, concrete is a strong, durable material that plays a major role in many construction projects due to its versatility. An SE focusing on sustainability could use recycled concrete to reduce the strain human activity places on the environment, contributing to a safer future.

Structural engineers continuously strive for innovative and effective ways to create structures that will last while supporting environmental best practices.

Surprising Roles for Structural Engineers


Structural engineers are trained in ensuring that buildings stand up to blast forces. The events of 9/11 have brought this aspect of engineering to the forefront of building design. Any building considered a potential target for terrorism – government facilities, monuments, military installations – must be resistant to progressive collapse and reinforced against blasts. SEs can also identify weak points in existing buildings and help strengthen the structures that present the greatest risks. When terrorists plan an attack, they assess the potential damage they can cause. Buildings without structural weak points require more effort and resources to destroy, so these targets are less attractive.


In times of disaster or infrastructure collapse, structural engineers are at the forefront of analyzing the stability of the impacted buildings and structures. SEs often work with humanitarian organizations and the government to provide relief to developing or recently devastated areas. Their input helps coordinators make effective decisions to keep populations safe. If an area was struck by a natural disaster, an SE can also help with the rebuilding efforts, ensuring all renovations and new constructions will not just replace the destroyed building but instead improve on its structural elements so that it can withstand similar situations in the future.


Structural engineers make sure that buildings are demolished safely and efficiently. Even though demolition is the “reverse” of construction, many of the same principles and safety concerns apply. The order in which a building is dismantled matters. If the wrong structural elements are removed or weakened at the wrong time it poses a safety risk. Structural engineers help to maintain an optimal demolition process by coordinating the process and techniques used.

Space Exploration

Structural engineers aren’t just necessary here on earth, their work helps us explore the entire universe. At NASA, engineers are responsible for ensuring the safety of shuttles, space stations, and astronaut crews. SEs are part of the process from the beginning, identifying risks and making suggestions to protect structures and the people in them. Their skills help NASA navigate outer space hazards.


As a team of engineers who truly appreciates a job well done, we can't help but see beauty and ingenuity in the feats of engineering all around us. The next time you’re out and about, consider the role a structural engineer played in creating both the simple and amazing things you see around you.