The Compact City: A Sustainable Urban Form?

By Mike Jenks; Elizabeth Burton et al. | Go to book overview
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Part 3

Environment and Resources


Introduction

The compact city debate has been driven largely by environmental arguments: for example, that it is the most energy efficient urban form, it reduces the need to travel and hence transport emissions; and that it conserves the countryside. The previous section investigated the importance of social and economic arguments to the general debate; this section now examines the environmental issues in more depth. First, the environmental claims made in support of the compact city need to be tested, and supported by empirical research, if they are to form the basis for urban policy. Secondly, as well as contradictions with other issues, there may be internal contradictions to the environmental arguments in support of the compact city; there may be counter-claims that reveal ways in which the compact city is not environmentally sustainable. The following chapters address both these problems.

Transport is arguably the single biggest issue for environmental arguments relating to urban form, as reflected by the large number of chapters devoted to this topic. It is claimed that the compact city reduces travel demand, increases the propensity for walking and cycling, and supports public transport. But is this actually the case? Barren investigates the effect of density on travel demand, particularly for work-related travel. Farthing et al. investigate the effect of increased accessibility to local services and facilities on non-work-related travel behaviour, and Nijkamp and Rienstra analyse the public transport dimension. From this work it is not at all clear that the compact city would yield the advantages it is claimed. The authors tend to agree that local journey lengths may be reduced, but this may not be significant in comparison with the longer trips associated with recreation. They are also united in their belief that a modal shift away from the private car is unlikely.

With rising car ownership, transport issues may continue to control and influence urban form in the way they have done in the past-a case of the tail wagging the dog-in which case a re-emergence of the more traditional compact urban form would remain an elusive goal. Barrett and Nijkamp and Rienstra

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