“Sprawl” and population density: should we care about the average or the distribution?

I’m quite interested in the debate going on in Auckland at the moment about whether population growth should be accommodated by more “sprawl” or increased density. In particular, people claim Auckland currently has quite a lot of sprawl and the vision set out in the Auckland Plan (and implemented in the unitary plan) is that we will move towards a “compact city” (i.e. increased density). A related discussion is what type of transport investments we should prioritize to accommodate that growth (i.e. roading vs public transport/cycling infrastructure).

I was therefore interested to see the New Zealand Institute attempting to debunk the myth that Auckland has a lot of sprawl by posting the following graph, in their very useful “graph of the week” series

Source: New Zealand Institute

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