In this paper, we provide a novel approach to distinguish livable urban densities from crowded cities and describe how this distinction has proved to be critical in predicting COVID-19 contagion hotspots in cities in low- and middle-income country. Urban population density—considered as the ratio of population to land area, without reference to floor space consumption or other measures of livability—can have large drawbacks. To address this drawback and distinguish between density and crowding, it is important to adjust for measures of floor space as well as open space and neighborhood amenities. We use a dataset on building heights, representative of cities worldwide, to measure densities based on floor area consumption per person as well as apply this measure to develop a COVID-19 hotspot predictive tool to help city leaders prioritize civic and medical resources during the pandemic. We conclude by outlining priority interventions that could enable city leaders and local governments to transform crowded cities into livable places.
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