Louise Thomas and Will Cousins
The debate on the ability of different forms of urban development to provide more practical and 'better' environments has a long history. From the earliest strategies for the colonisation of land for human habitation, to today's research-led and policy-driven statements on environmentally conscious activity, a wealth of material has been written propounding the benefits (and disbenefits) of various settlement forms.
The current debate in Britain, which addresses the imperative of 'sustainable development', is in many ways the late twentieth century's contribution to this on-going debate. 'Sustainable development' has become most popularly understood from its definition in the report by the Brundtland Commission as 'development which meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs and aspirations' (World Commission on Environment and Development, 1987, p. 47). While this definition successfully captures the essence of sustainable action, it is increasingly quoted as inferring a concept called 'sustainability' as a durable condition without any further consideration. The important aspect of this aim should be that our action in living today must continue to be relevant and workable in the future-embodying ideals and aspirations that our grandchildren's children will be happy to inherit, and that does not consume irreplaceable assets. It is important therefore to understand sustainability as action which balances the present with the future, but also with the past: 'soundly based so that it can last' (DoE, 1990, p. 1).
Seen from this perspective, the search for the 'ideal' land use planning pattern which is to satisfy specific social, economic, and environmental criteria is at risk of simplifying a complex and continually unfolding topic. Therefore discussions which focus only on the 'compact city' can only represent just one facet of the debate as it stands today.