The Compact City: A Sustainable Urban Form?

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

Part 1

Compact City Theory


Introduction

The relationship between urban form and sustainability is currently one of the most hotly debated issues on the international environmental agenda. The way that cities should be developed in the future, and the effect that their form can have on resource depletion and social and economic sustainability, are central to this debate. The chapters in Part 1 add to this argument by presenting theoretical perspectives on what Welbank has described as The Search for a Sustainable Urban Form. Collectively the chapters form an overview of the theoretical advances in the compact city debate and present thinking on the best option for future urban development; but taken individually they offer strong, and often conflicting, opinions about the benefits and, importantly, the costs of urban compaction.

At one extreme of the debate, there are those who believe that compact cities are an important component of a sustainable future. Hillman, for example, argues that compacting the city is one way of reducing travel distances, and therefore reducing emissions and greenhouse gases, thus curbing global warming. He concedes that living at higher densities will have implications for individual lifestyles, but does not believe that these will be negative. By reducing consumption of fossil fuels, he argues, urban residents could enjoy, amongst other things, lower transport expenditure, less pollution and lower heating costs.

There are then those who believe in what Breheny terms a 'compromise' position, who favour neither extreme centralisation nor decentralisation solutions (Breheny, Scoffham and Vale, and Thomas and Cousins). Breheny suggests that many of the benefits of centralisation may not stand up to scrutiny, and he questions whether the local 'pain' suffered by urban dwellers will be worth the 'gain' to sustainability; especially as some of the gains are questionable. He then advocates a position which supports both the merits of centralisation, for example urban containment and urban regeneration, and the benefits of the 'inevitable decentralisation' to towns and suburbs which offer a range of public facilities.

A similar 'compromise' position is held by Scoffham and Vale, and Thomas and Cousins. Scoffham and Vale dismiss extreme centralisation and propose

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