The compact city and contemporary urbanization processes : discussing alternative interpretations of urban compactness

Endemann, Henry and Bruyns, Gerhard and Buehring, Joern; (2022) The compact city and contemporary urbanization processes : discussing alternative interpretations of urban compactness. In: Annual Conference Proceedings of the XXVIII International Seminar on Urban Form. University of Strathclyde Publishing, Glasgow, pp. 414-423. ISBN 9781914241161

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The Compact City is a paradigm that is widely promoted as a sustainable way of development. However, the desirability of urban compactness is frequently questioned in urban theory, and empirical research shows that the effects of compaction are highly ambiguous. Furthermore, contemporary urbanization processes fundamentally change the scales and complexities that urbanism has to deal with. Therefore, new interpretations of the Compact City are needed. This paper discusses alternative interpretations of urban compactness in order to initiate the exploration of design and planning principles that are geared to today's urban challenges, and thereby deepen insights into the links between the Compact City and urban morphology. The paper starts by outlining the current debate on the sustainability of compact urban form and giving a short overview of three theories that capture contemporary processes of urbanization - Planetary Urbanization, Mega-regionalization, and Peri-urbanization. This gives an impression of the phenomena to be considered. Subsequently, alternative interpretations of urban compactness are presented and discussed based on their relation to the urbanization processes presented beforehand. The chosen interpretations - compactness through autonomy; regional compactness; compactness of flows; and relational compactness - originate from existing theoretical literature. The review shows that except for regional compactness, each of the interpretations adequately responds to the theory on contemporary urbanization processes. A set of hypothetical diagrams that tries to translate the interpretations into empirical measures shows that each of them has the potential to point towards types of morphological analysis that go beyond the conventional focus of urban compactness on population and building densities. It is therefore concluded that if alternative interpretations of urban compactness are developed with consideration of urbanization theory, and they implement a variety of empirical measure, they can make valuable contributions to urban issues beyond the disciplinary limits of urban morphology.

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