The Compact City: A Sustainable Urban Form?

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

Peter Drummond and Corinne Swain


Environmental Capacity of a Historic City:The Chester Experience

Introduction

Historic cities in England represent perhaps the epitome of the compact city. They are free-standing settlements with strong local identities. They have well defined city centres, often physically delineated by former city walls, and high quality townscape with mixed land uses. Peripheral development has generally been controlled either by green belt policies or local restrictions, so that there is often no more than two miles between the nearest countryside and the centre.

With the premium now put on a good quality environment, historic cities are increasingly under pressure to expand. Continued outward growth from greenfield business parks and residential development leads to the risk of eroding the setting of cities and hence their special character. The increase in development of new forms of out-of-town retailing and leisure provision tends to weaken the viability and vitality of the historic core. Within the historic core, pressure to accommodate large developments can destroy the intricate urban grain, where narrow lanes and intimate spaces have previously given a human scale, and extra development within the city risks the loss of green areas, and raises the spectre of town cramming.

It is not just pressure of development, but also of increased activity that may cause problems. Ever increasing levels of car ownership and usage often result in antagonisms between pedestrians and vehicles, parking problems in narrow streets and squares, and difficulties in servicing shops and businesses. Large numbers of visitors can also lead to potential conflicts with residents, and wear-and-tear on the fabric of the very place they come to see. Pressures such as these are being experienced in many medium sized towns and cities, but they are more extreme in historic cities because of their simultaneous attraction to different types of activity.

However, historic cities are also real places facing problems such as unemployment, social stress, dereliction, and the lack of affordable housing. There is often a facade of prosperity which hides real problems. Historic cities

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