Compact cities

By 2050, 70% of the world’s population more than 5.5 billion people will live in urban areas. This population boom, combined with threats of global warming, high energy prices and tight government budgets make a convincing argument for better city planning. Governments faced with growing populations and dwindling natural resources have two choices: they can let urban sprawl continue to eat up useful land or they can plan “compact cities” that will be better for the economy and the environment. 

Using the examples of Melbourne, Paris, Portland, Toyama and Vancouver, OECD’s new Compact City Policies: A comparative assessment says that, with the right policies, compact cities can protect the environment, foster regional economic growth and offer a better quality of life. For example, a proposal has been made to increase forests of the greater Paris area by at least 30% in order to limit the temperature in case of a heat wave.

As well as preserving biodiversity, farmland directly adjacent to cities encourages local food consumption, reduces the distance the food travels and limits green house gas emissions. For citizens, the high cost of energy will be off-set by shorter travel time, access to public transport and access to local services and jobs. For governments looking to save money, compact cities offer more efficient infrastructure investment and reduce the cost of maintenance for transport, energy, water supply, and waste collection and disposal.

The book contains the policy practices of almost 30 countries and gives 18 compact city indicators which can help governments to benchmark their results and improve their policy actions. The book recommends, for example, that national, regional and urban governments work together with investors and other actors to encourage density, particularly in new developments and to synchronise urban and rural land-use policies. It calls for governments to retrofit existing buildings and increase the diversity of land use and quality of life by mixing commercial and residential areas. It also suggests that governments minimise the adverse effects of compact cities by limiting traffic congestion through taxation on vehicles or fuel for instance, encouraging affordable housing, promoting attractive urban design and public spaces, and greening built-up areas.


For the full report, click here.  

ISBN 9789264167841

 ©OECD Observer No 292, Q3 2012

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