The Compact City: A Sustainable Urban Form?

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

Mike Jenks, Elizabeth Burton and Katie Williams


Compact Cities and Sustainability:An Introduction

…the year [19]95 is a symbolic marker; after which the balance seems to tilt away from anxieties about death and decay to dreams of regeneration and rebirth (Showalter, 1995, p. 3)

It is less than a decade since the Brundtland report Our Common Future was published (World Commission on Environment and Development, WCED, 1987), and little more than three years since the Rio Declaration was signed by over 150 countries (United Nations, 1993). Within a very short time issues of sustainability and of sustainable development have become part of the mainstream. Concern about the future of the world's environment and its resources is now an established fact of life, and this has been accompanied by expressions of good intention by governments worldwide. There has been wide ranging discussion about the importance of achieving inter- and intra-generational sustainability. The debate has covered many issues related to population, agriculture and biodiversity, industry, energy consumption, global warming and pollution, equity in access to resources, and urbanism. The arguments have largely moved on from the rather doom laden scenarios of global catastrophe, towards a certain optimism that having understood the problems, solutions might be found. But it is an optimism tinged with doubt, as questions remain about how best to achieve effective solutions, and whether there is the will to implement them. While the whole range of environmental issues is important, and all are interrelated, it is the issue of urbanism that seems to provide the problems that are among the most intractable and difficult to solve. The significance of cities is not in doubt. As Elkin et al. (1991, p. 4) observe, 'Urban centres are crucial to the functioning of the world economic order'. But although the problems are generally known, the complexity of cities, and differences in the urban experience of their inhabitants, lead to a variety of issues that make the search for effective solutions a daunting task. Nevertheless, it is a task that needs to be undertaken; a large part of the response to unsustainable development 'should come from the cities because that is where

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