Strong arguments are emerging through academic and political debate that the compact city is the most sustainable urban form. But many of the claims made about the compact city are controversial, and the counter-arguments draw attention to the dangers of increasing densities and activities within cities; of particular concern are traffic congestion, pollution, loss of urban open space and overcrowding.
This controversy about density and sustainability emphasises the importance of empirical study of existing examples of urban form. Whilst new 'green' residential developments may capture the headlines, real progress in devising more sustainable ways of living must be made in existing housing areas. It is arguable that one of the most energy efficient decisions that we could make would be to stop building new housing and concentrate instead on making the best use of the existing stock. This paper will focus on two contrasting mixed use areas, one of which, the Old Town of Edinburgh, is a classic example of high density housing interspersed with institutional and cultural buildings, and the other, South Dennistoun in Glasgow, is an area of traditional Scottish inner city housing.
South Dennistoun lies about 1.5km east of the city centre. It is a densely built up area covering some ten hectares. It is an 'island' bounded to the north and west by Duke Street and Bellgrove Street, both major traffic arteries, and to the south and east by a railway cutting. To the north of Duke Street lies another much larger area of tenement flats and terraced housing mainly in private ownership. To the east and south are pockets of industrial and warehouse buildings, the few remaining remnants of what was, up to the 1950s, a prosperous manufacturing area (Fig. 1).
South Dennistoun consists of four-storey stone tenement flats, built in the