The Compact City: A Sustainable Urban Form?

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

Part 2

Social and Economic Issues


Introduction

The concept of sustainability is complex, particularly in the urban context; it embraces social, economic and environmental issues, and for urban development to be truly sustainable it must be sustainable on all three counts. Benefits for one issue may result in unacceptable costs for another, as shown starkly by Smyth in his description of the grave consequences of neglecting social and economic concerns in the pursuit of an 'environmentally driven' objective.

General theories surrounding the compact city idea were presented in Part 1; the following two parts of the book dissect some of these theories, and analyse them in more detail. Social and economic issues are examined first. There are two-interrelated-strands to this examination: the first concerns the validity of the claims that in social and economic terms the compact city is the most sustainable urban form; the second concerns the validity of the compact city as a realistic proposition, which is particularly significant in a market-led economy.

Advocates of the compact city claim that intensifying urban areas would lead to safer, more vibrant urban areas, support for local businesses and services, and greater social equity. Many of these arguments were put forward in Part 1, but there is little empirical research to support them. Troy investigates some of the social issues and provides counter-arguments to the commonly claimed benefits. He contends that, in the Australian context, compacting or consolidation would take away from the egalitarian nature of traditional housing, and from the freedoms to pursue family and community life that currently exist. Both Smyth and Troy believe that the less well-off would suffer if the compact city became a reality.

However, it is futile to prove anything about the sustainability of the compact city if the possibility of its realisation is remote. Some of the authors assert that significant proportions of the UK population are still moving out of cities into more rural or suburban areas, and that it is evident that there is a demand for increasing amounts of living space as standards of living rise (Knight; Crookston et al.). Since the creation of whole new towns happens infrequently, the compact city is most likely to be brought about by intensifying existing urban areas-

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