The Compact City: A Sustainable Urban Form?

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

Elizabeth Burton, Katie Williams and Mike Jenks


The Compact City and Urban Sustainability:Conflicts and Complexities

If we can really understand the problem, the answer will come out of it, because the answer is not separate from the problem (Krishnamurti)


Introduction-the problem

At the 1992 UN Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro, the Rio Declaration, signed by over 150 countries, set out principles for achieving sustainable development. To support the declaration, the summit adopted Agenda 21, an action plan for the pursuit of sustainable development into the next century, addressed to international agencies, national and local governments and nongovernment organisations (United Nations, 1993).

Policies have already been formulated in partial fulfilment of the commitments made at Rio (UK Government, 1994; DoE and DoT, 1995). The Government regards the land use planning system as being at the heart of the UK Strategy for Sustainable Development. Sustainability is now a material consideration in terms of planning law. At the city level, local planning authorities are obliged to have regard to the objectives of Sustainability in formulating development plans and considering individual applications for development. They are advised that Sustainability can be achieved through directing development to existing urban areas rather than peripheral or greenfield locations, and through encouraging higher densities and mixed uses-that is, through encouraging the process of urban 'intensification'.

The compact city has been advocated by many as the most sustainable form of development. However, much of the theory has not been validated by empirical research and the arguments in support of the compact city remain contentious. To many of the claims there are either counter-arguments or conflicts at the local level. For example, it is claimed that the compact city protects the countryside, and lowers the level of emissions into the environment by reducing vehicle use. The counter-arguments are that there is increased traffic congestion which leads to greater local air pollution in urban areas; noise pollution is greater; and

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