Compact Cities Are Environmentally and Economically More Sustainable

Sprawl leads to more emissions, but the economic costs are also high. Policies and strategies that ensure compact growth are essential.

December 3, 2018, 8:00 AM PST

By Camille Fink


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Chen Hualin / Wikimedia Commons

Catlyne Haddaoui considers the implications of an August 2018 report from The New Climate Economy that says more sustainable, compact urban development will lead to global economic savings of up to $17 trillion by 2050. “Compact cities produce fewer emissions because they tend to offer better access to public transit and cycling and walking paths, have greater energy efficiency, have lower environmental costs for infrastructure, and allow for more green spaces.”

She reports that infrastructure is less costly to build and maintain in compact cities, and residents in these cities do not have to travel as far or deal with congestion and air pollution, which then boosts GDP. In addition, says Haddaoui, compact cities bring people together, spur innovation, and increase productivity.

Strategies for compact growth need to stop sprawl, which promotes auto dependence, single-family homes, and low-density development. Haddaoui says shifting people from driving to sustainable modes of travel is crucial, and this change will happen through transportation infrastructure investments.

She adds that these investments need to be coupled with national policies that further support compact development. “Governments will need to reform spatial plans, building codes and tax incentives to discourage sprawl. And they’ll need to do this while avoiding the displacement of low-income or other marginalized urban residents as inner-city areas become more attractive,” says Haddaoui.

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