The Compact City: A Sustainable Urban Form?

By Mike Jenks; Elizabeth Burton et al. | Go to book overview

Katie Williams, Elizabeth Burton and Mike Jenks


Achieving the Compact City through Intensification:An Acceptable Option?

Introduction

The compact city is being promoted in the UK and throughout Europe as a component of the strategy formed to tackle the problems of unsustainability. The rationale for its implementation relies heavily on a set of strategic benefits, which are said to be the outcome of more compact urban forms. The arguments are, by now, familiar: in more compact cities travel distances are reduced, thus fuel emissions are lessened, rural land is saved from development, local facilities are supported and local areas become more autonomous. Although the actual effects of many of these claimed benefits are far from certain, for now at least, urban compaction is a policy direction which is being followed.

Herein lies a problem. In academic debate the concepts of sustainable urban forms, and latterly 'compact cities' are often discussed as if they are 'models', which could be built now. The implication is that there are a set of options available for constructing the ideal urban form, and that we can set about creating it. Of course this does not reflect reality. Unless new settlements are built, more compact cities can only be achieved through a process of making existing cities more dense, of encouraging more people to live in urban areas and of building at higher densities: of 'intensifying' cities. Therefore, the strategic benefits suggested at an international, national, regional and even metropolitan level, can only be achieved through maximising the use and form of cities, and this will have local implications, which will be experienced in every neighbourhood, on every street.

The aim of this chapter is to set the compact city debate, and more specifically the 'intensification' debate, in the context of its acceptability to urban residents. Whilst the theory sets out the strategic advantages of compact living, it is crucial that 'intensification' itself delivers the benefits. Most definitions of sustainability emphasise not only environmental criteria, but also issues of social equity and choice, both now and in the future. Therefore any proposed form of development must be agreeable to the urban population. If it is not, those who can will leave the city, and only the most disadvantaged will be left: a scenario which is clearly

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