Domain 4- Performance Based Built Environment
Compact City

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Compact City

There is a widespread consensus that progress towards sustainable development is essential. Human activity cannot continue to use resources at the present rate without jeopardizing opportunities for future generations. Cities are the main arena of human activity, but they are also the greatest consumers of natural resources. However, urban sustainability is not just about environmental concerns, it is also about economic viability, liveability and social equity. Recently, much attention has focused on the relationship between urban form and sustainability, the suggestion being that the shape and density of cities can have implications for their future. From this debate, strong arguments are emerging that the compact city is the most sustainable urban form.

Compact City is a high density urban settlement that has the following main characteristics:

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Central area revitalisation

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High-density development

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Mixed-use development

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Services and facilities: hospitals, parks, schools, leisure and fun

In recent years city planners, developers and policymakers have increasingly looked towards designing a more compact city in order to achieve a more sustainable urban form.  Policies of urban compaction involve the promotion of urban regeneration, the revitalisation of town centers, restraint on development in rural areas, higher densities, mixed-use development, promotion of public transport and the concentration of urban development at public transport nodes. There are many perceived benefits of the compact city over urban sprawl, which include: less car dependency thus lower emissions, reduced energy consumption, better public transport services, increased overall accessibility, the re-use of infrastructure and previously developed land, a regeneration of existing urban areas and urban vitality, a higher quality of life, the preservation of green space, and the creation of a milieu for enhanced business and trading activities. As sustainable development relies upon the combination of economic, social and environmental elements.  The following are some of the issues that should be addressed for the compact city to show improvements across all three spheres.

Connected Centres of Social and Commercial Activities

The creation of the modern Compact City demands the rejection of single-function development and the dominance of the car. The issues to be addressed are:

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how to design cities in which communities thrive and mobility is increased

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how to design for personal mobility without allowing the car to undermine communal life

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how to design for and accelerate the use of clean transport systems and re-balance the use of our streets in favour of the pedestrian and the community

The Compact City addresses these issues because it grows around centres of social and commercial activity located at public transport nodes. These provide the focal points around which neighbourhoods develop. The Compact City is a network of these neighbourhoods, each with its own parks and public spaces and accommodating a diversity of overlapping private and public activities. London’s historic structure of towns, villages, squares and parks is typical of a polycentric pattern of development. Most importantly, these neighbourhoods bring work and facilities within convenient reach of the community, and this proximity means less driving for everyday needs. In large cities, Mass transit systems can provide high-speed cross-town travel by linking one neighbourhood centre with another, leaving local distribution to local systems. This reduces the volume and impact of through traffic, which can be calmed and controlled, particularly around the public heart of neighbourhoods. Local trains, light railway systems and electric buses become more effective, and cycling and walking more pleasant. Congestion and pollution in the streets are drastically reduced and the sense of security and conviviality of public space is increased.

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Community-Based Society

Sustainable Compact Cities could reinstate the city as the ideal habitat for a community-based society. It is an established type of urban structure that can be interpreted in all manner of ways in response to all manner of cultures. Cities should be about the people they shelter, about face-to-face contact, about condensing the ferment of human activity, about generating and expressing local culture. Whether in a temperate or an extreme climate, in a rich or poor society, the long-term aim of sustainable development is to create a flexible structure for a vigorous community within a healthy and non-polluting environment.

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Proximity

Proximity, the provision of good public space, the presence of natural landscape and the exploitation of new urban technologies can radically improve the quality of air and of life in the dense city. Another benefit of compactness is that the countryside itself is protected from the encroachment of urban development.  The concentration of diverse activities, rather than the grouping of similar activities, can make for more efficient use of energy. The Compact City can provide an environment as beautiful as that of the countryside.

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Overlapping

The whole premise of the Compact City is that interventions trigger further opportunities for efficiency. A Compact City composed of overlapping activities, for instance, is more convivial and can reduce the need for car journeys, which in turn dramatically reduces the energy used for transportation - usually a quarter of a city’s overall energy consumption. Fewer cars mean less congestion and better air quality, which in turn encourages cycling and walking rather than driving. Better air quality makes opening windows to fresh air more attractive than turning on filtered air-conditioners.

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Rich Urban Landscaping

There are other important environmental advantages to a compact form of city that has fewer roads but more landscaped public spaces. Parks, gardens, trees and other landscaping provide vegetation that shades and cools streets, courtyards and buildings in summer. Cities are generally 1-20C warmer than their hinterland. The overall effect of rich urban landscaping is to reduce the heat 'bloom' of cities, measurably reducing the need for air-conditioning. Plants dampen noise levels and filter pollution, absorb carbon dioxide and produce oxygen - further factors that reduce the need for air-conditioning to supply cooled fresh air to buildings in what would otherwise be hot and polluted urban areas. Urban landscape absorbs rain, reducing the discharge of urban rainfall and storm water. Landscape plays an important psychological role in the city and can sustain a wide diversity of urban wildlife.

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Reduced Waste of Energy

A Compact City reduces the waste of energy. Generating electric power produces hot water as a by-product, which in conventional power plants is simply wasted. Local Combined Heat and Power plants (CHPs) can be used both to distribute electricity and, due to their proximity, to pipe hot water directly into buildings. This can more than double the efficiency of conventional urban power distribution. City rubbish, which is usually either dumped as landfill or incinerated, both with polluting effects, can be burned by local CHPs and supply up to 30 per cent of a community’s energy needs. In a city that combines a variety of activities, it is easier to transfer waste heat from one activity to another. Excess heat generated by offices, for example, is usually dissipated into the environment, but it can be reused in hospitals, homes, hotels or schools if they are reasonably close.

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Recycled Human Waste

Human waste that is rich in nutrients is currently discharged in such high concentrations that it poisons the environment. It can instead be recycled to produce methane fuel pellets and fertilizers. Grey water can be filtered through natural systems on site and be re-used for irrigation of urban landscape or to restock local aquifers. Experimental sewerage treatment schemes that discharge their waste below industrial forestry have been shown both to increase the growth rate of the forests, woods and parks and to restock local aquifers with purified water. Clean water is recognised as the critical resource of the coming millennium, and we must develop systems that maximise the efficiency of its use.

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Compact City Issues

The following are some of the issues that need to be addressed by planners and policy makers for a successful Compact City:

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What next when a compact city achieves its highest possible density?

bulletCompact City implications for individual lifestyles
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The link between city compactness and social equity: Sustainable development involves more than just environmental conversation; it embraces the need for equity. Both intra-generational equity providing for the needs of the least advantaged in society, and inter-generational equity, ensuring a fair treatment of future generations need to be considered.

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Equity and community issues: The urban periphery, doughnuts of deprivation, social inclusion / exclusion, crime and security issues

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Urban management and safety

bulletIndustry structure and the redistribution of population
bulletFamily size, lifestyle, culture etc. effect on dwelling / building size, type and design, housing needs, relocation and transaction costs, health, education infrastructure, facilities and services etc.
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Compact City implications for politicians / planners: health issues, education, communication, information systems, industrial, etc.

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The effect of intensification/decentralization on the increase/decrease in urban vibrancy:
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Town centers offering more cultural and entertainment facilities, because of the concentration of retail and employment activities. 

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More neighbors, as well as neighbors of increasingly diverse socio-economic backgrounds effects on local identity or a sense of community. 

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Safety due to security cameras, increased policing and the concentration of entertainment facilities in the town center.

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Profitability of business and trading activities, such as entertainment facilities, restaurants, bars and clubs.

 

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The effect of compactness on the need to travel and feasibility of public transport, thus reducing emissions and contributing to environmental sustainability.

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The effect of compactness on the efficiency of services, such as public transport, sewers and rubbish collection etc.

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The impact of intensification policies on the urban landscape.

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The ‘environmental clash’ between housing, industry and traffic that can no longer be solved through the traditional methods of placing distance between ‘environmentally intrusive activities’ and ‘environmentally sensitive areas’ through zoning. As a result of its mixed-use and compaction ideologies the compact city policy makes it difficult to solve environmental conflicts by keeping a sufficient distance between intrusive forces and environmentally sensitive areas, activities and functions.

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References

Rogers, R. and Gumuchdjian, P., 1997, Cities for Small Planet, Faber and Faber Limited, ISBN: 0-571-17993-2, London

Jenks, M., Burton, E. and Williams, K. (Editors), 1996, The Compact City: A Sustainable Urban Form?, Spon Press; ISBN: 0419213007

de Roo, G. and Miller, D. (Editors), 2000, Compact Cities and Sustainable Urban Development: A Critical Assessment of Policies and Plans from an International Perspective (Urban Planning and Environment), Ashgate Publishing Limited, ISBN: 0754615375

Elkin, T., McLaren, D. and Hillman, M., 1991, Reviving the City: towards sustainable urban development, London

Williams, K., Burton E. and Jenks, M., 2000, Achieving Sustainable Urban Form, London

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Connected Centres

Community-Based Society

Proximity

Overlapping

Rich Landscaping

Reduced Energy

Recycled Waste

Issues

References

Related Web Sites

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