The Compact City: A Sustainable Urban Form?

By Mike Jenks; Elizabeth Burton et al. | Go to book overview
Michael Welbank
The Search for a Sustainable Urban Form

Introduction
As part of the national and international campaign to achieve the goal of 'sustainable development' the search for sustainable urban forms is in full swing. Nearly every facet of the sustainable development movement has its expression in the urban environment, and neither the urban environment, nor the sustainable city, nor the compact city are tidy self-contained packets which can be extracted and studied in a disaggregated manner. Planners find themselves in the front line of this search, with demands coming from all sides that they take the lead in achieving sustainable development and come forward with sustainable forms for the urban environment, backed by sound research, which are acceptable in social and economic terms. They are being asked to propose solutions to advance a theoretical and complex concept, as yet undefined in its manner of application, in a setting representing the most complex interaction of interests, forces and issues that can ever be imagined-the city. In this amazing imbroglio one easy solution is to call for vision. The danger is that visions, ill-conceived, or with no rationale behind them, could be worse than a 'do nothing' scenario. There is no shortage of advice to planners about the content of the vision, but they are right to be cautious because as professionals they are still being blamed for the results of ill-founded visions of the past. If they are being asked to lead with vision, then it is at a time when it has become much more difficult-with a 'nimbyesque' public (from NIMBY, Not In My Back Yard), a hyper-critical press, and a consequently nervous political generation in all parties, at all levels-and has made anything other than short term or ad hoc planning extremely difficult. And looking at the performance of the planning profession in the postwar years, has the concept of a 'vision' served planning well? Chris Shepley (1995) has identified three distinct periods, each characterised by a different approach:
• The confident but sensitive period (up to about the 1950s)

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