Compact city vital to sustainable development

By WANG JUNMEI / 09-07-2017 / (Chinese Social Sciences Today)


Pictured above are heavily trafficked streets of Beijing. Densities are often higher in Chinese cites than in their Western counterparts. Experts have suggested planning compact cities from the ground up to achieve sustainable urban development.

By 2050, the UN estimates that 66 percent of the global population will live in cities. One of the many challenges of urban development is dealing with land scarcity. To achieve sustainable progress, it may be helpful to design compact cities. In a recent interview with CSST, scholars explained the pros and cons of this strategy.

Tony Matthews, a lecturer at the School of Environment at Griffith University in Australia, said that the compact city is a planning and urban design concept that reduces urban sprawl by increasing density, creating urban diversity and vitality. The model can involve the following characteristics: urban regeneration, revitalization of town centers, high density, mixed-use development, extensive public transportation and the concentration of urban development at public transportation nodes.
Ian Mell, a lecturer of the School of Environment, Education and Development at the University of Manchester, said that high-density neighborhoods, an integral part of compact cities, are a double-edged sword. To some extent, they change neighborhood structures, isolating people from one another. The existence of a large amount of people trying to share limited resources raises operational costs of communities and intensifies conflicts among residents.

Compact cities were proposed as a way to reduce car travel, pollution and resource use, Mell added. He said city planners should reflect on how people interact with the environment and seek ways to manage the growth of urban areas in the long term through more eco-friendly and sustainable practices.

An example of such a relationship is the management of the urban drainage system. Mell said that excess rainfall and storm water issues due to large impermeable surfaces in cities require solutions. Sustainable drainage, green walls and roofs and more green, open space should be integrated into urban designs as priorities.

The theory of compact cities was developed as a solution to suburban sprawl in Western cities. Relevant studies focus on countries and regions like the United States, Australia and Europe, but developing countries, such as China, have also started to put this theory into practice as urbanization speeds up.

Matthews said that densities are often higher in Chinese cites than in their Western counterparts, which makes developing compact cities arguably quicker. But he added that Chinese cities, like all cities, will find it easier to plan compact cities from the ground up rather than to try to graft the model onto existing urban spaces.