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Is Compact City a Sustainable Option? What will our FUTURE Urban Cities Design be like


There is a universal consensus that progress toward long-term sustainable development is critical. Human activity cannot continue to deplete resources at its current rate without endangering future generations’ possibilities. Cities are the hub of human activity, but they also consume the most natural resources. However, urban sustainability concerns not only environmental, but also economic viability, liveability, and social equity.

Much emphasis has recently been paid to the relationship between urban design and sustainability, with the idea that the shape and density of cities can affect their long-term viability. Strong arguments are emerging that the compact city is the most sustainable urban shape.

To attain a more sustainable urban design, city planners, developers, and legislators have increasingly looked towards constructing a more compact city in recent years. Promotion of urban regeneration, revitalization of town centers, restraint on development in rural regions, increased densities, mixed-use development, promotion of public transportation, and concentration of urban development at public transportation hubs are all examples of urban compaction policies.

So, what are these Compact Cities everyone is talking about? Is a Compact City a sustainable option?

Let’s dive in to know the fate of Compact cities and urban construction in the future.

What is a Compact City?

A compact city refers to an urban model that is associated with a more densely populated occupation, with overlapping uses (homes, businesses, and services) and the encouragement of pedestrian, cycling, and public transportation users’ movement. Amsterdam and Copenhagen are two well-known examples of this type of city.

The compact city, in contrast to the dispersed city, has some appealing characteristics, including: continuous and contained urban development, delimited by legible boundaries; high local and regional accessibility; different centralities; smaller infrastructure networks (water, electricity, sanitation); and greater control over government oversight, among others.

A Compact City is a high-density urban settlement with the following main characteristics:

  • Central area revitalization
  • High-density development
  • Mixed-use development
  • Services and facilities: hospitals, parks, schools, leisure and fun

Perks of living in a Compact Community

There are numerous perceived advantages of compact cities over urban sprawl, including lower car dependency and thus lower emissions, reduced energy consumption, improved public transportation services, increased overall accessibility, the re-use of infrastructure and previously developed land, the regeneration of existing urban areas, and urban vitality, a higher quality of life, the preservation of green space, and the creation of an environment conducive to enhanced business and trading activity. Because sustainable growth is based on a mix of economic, social, and environmental factors, the compact city should exhibit advances in all three spheres.

Following are the benefits of living in a Compact City:

  • Community Experience – Compact Cities have the potential to re-establish themselves as the ideal setting for a community-based society. It is a well-established urban framework that may be interpreted in a variety of ways to suit various cultures. Cities should be about the people who live there, about face-to-face interaction, about concentrating the flurry of human activity, and about developing and expressing local culture. The long-term goal of sustainable development, whether in a temperate or extreme climate, in a rich or poor society, is to establish a flexible structure for a vibrant community within a healthy and non-polluting environment.
  • Accessibility – Accessibility, adequate public space, the presence of the natural environment, and the use of new urban technologies can dramatically improve the quality of air and life in densely populated areas. Another advantage of compactness is that it shields the countryside from the intrusion of urban growth. Concentrating on a variety of tasks rather than grouping similar activities can result in more efficient energy utilization. However, The Compact City can provide a magnificent setting similar to that of the countryside. 
  • Co-Occurring Activities – The Compact City’s entire premise is that interventions & initiatives lead to more potential for efficiency. A Compact City with overlapping activities & carpooling is more convivial and can reduce the need for car trips, which reduces the amount of energy required for transportation, which accounts for around a quarter of a city’s total energy consumption. Fewer automobiles mean less traffic and improved air quality, which encourages people to cycle and walk instead of driving. Opening windows to let in fresh air is more appealing than turning on filtered air conditioners because of the improved air quality.

  • Rich Ecosystem – Landscape has a significant psychological impact on city residents and can support a diverse range of urban wildlife. There are several more significant environmental benefits to a small city with fewer highways and more landscaped public places. In the summer, parks, gardens, trees, and other landscaping provide shade and cool streets, courtyards, and buildings. Cities are typically 1-20°C warmer than their surrounding countryside. Rich urban landscaping has the overall effect of reducing the heat ‘bloom’ of cities, hence reducing the need for air conditioning. Plants minimize the need for air conditioning to give cooled fresh air to buildings in otherwise hot and filthy metropolitan regions by dampening noise levels, filtering pollution, absorbing carbon dioxide, and producing oxygen. Rain is absorbed by the urban terrain, which reduces the amount of rain and stormwater that is discharged.
  • Saving Energy & Reducing Waste – As a by-product of generating electric power, hot water is produced, which is typically wasted in conventional power plants. Local Combined Heat and Power plants can be utilized to distribute energy as well as conduit hot water directly into buildings due to their proximity. This has the potential to more than double the efficiency of traditional urban power distribution systems. City garbage, which is often buried or burnt, both of which pollute the environment, can be burned by local CHPs and provide up to 30% of a community’s energy demands. It is easier to transmit waste heat from one activity to another in a city with a diverse range of activities.
  • Recycling Waste – Nutrient-rich human waste is currently being released in such high volumes that it is contaminating the ecosystem. Instead, it can be used to make methane fuel pellets and fertilizers. Water can be purified on-site using natural methods and re-used to irrigate the urban landscape or replenish local aquifers. Experimental sewerage treatment facilities that release their waste beneath industrial forestry have been proven to boost forest, woodlands, and park development rates while also replenishing nearby aquifers with cleansed water. Clean water has been identified as a crucial resource for the next millennium, and we must build ways to maximize its efficiency.

Although a Compact City packs a lot of benefits, the following are some of the challenges that planners and policymakers must overcome for a Compact City to be successful:

Less domestic living space, which affects the quality of life, a lack of affordable housing, which practically contradicts the idea of social inclusion, and poor access to green spaces due to enormous pressure on existing land value and its respective uses are some of the criticisms associated with compaction as a sustainable city model.

This attribute frequently leads to an increase in crime since people’s association with the streets as public areas are lessened as a result of higher living, which can result in dark and filthy alleys, such as those found in Manhattan, New York. Higher densities also have negative neighbor effects in local areas, as proximity can lead to confrontations between people who live different lifestyles. The local effects of implementing compact city strategies are frequently challenging.

The Future of Urban Infrastructure & Compact Cities

What will our future urban cities’ form be like? Is a compact city a viable option, or is city dispersion the only likely one? The challenges of sustainability and sustainable development have emerged as a major concern for the new millennium cities.

According to Richard Rogers, compaction is a way for packing more improvement into the city, which leads to the creation of open spaces of greater thickness and quality, making urban living more appealing, naturally viable, financially sound, and socially comprehensive. However, as one argument goes, “Compact cities” are fundamentally a manageable metropolis with a structure and scale that allows for walking, cycling, and efficient public transportation, as well as compactness that encourages social interaction and community living.

The major strategy frameworks in Vancouver, Canada, are focused on densification in residential zones. The municipal authorities are endeavoring to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to make the city more compact.

Many Indian cities, such as Ahmadabad and Mumbai, are focusing on creating a polycentric city model, a Centralized Business Region, as a way for directed development and urban advancement. In addition, regulations focusing on transportation-oriented development allow for increased FSI around public transportation lines.

Perhaps the search for the ultimate sustainable urban form should now be redirected to a diversity of sustainable urban forms that adapt to the various existing settlement patterns and settings (Jenks, Williams, Burton, 1996). Despite the fact that there will always be questions about how sustainable a compact city is.

What happens when a compact city reaches its maximum density? But the way out is to recognize that identifying the limits of our cities, as well as the saturation degree of compaction associated with those boundaries, is critical. As a result, the ideas underlying creating a compact city are an important component in the search for sustainable urban design. However, a compact city is merely one solution to the problem of thinking globally while acting locally.

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