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Tomorrow’s cities will be compact

Posted on 04 November 2014.

To avoid megacities and unbridled growth devouring the last remaining natural areas, urban planners have invented a new model: compact cities!

In compact cities, greenhouse gas emissions fall, and electricity bills are lower too!

Compact: if you live in town, remember this word. The future of our cities lies in these two syllables, seven letters that in the near future will be redrawing the skylines of our cities. It meets an urgent need - preventing urban sprawl. More and more people in the world now live in cities and, according to the United Nations, the number is increasing, with 74 million new people every year. And city dwellers are taking up more and more space. Between 1950 and 2010, urban areas increased by 171%, but the population increased by only 142%! In short, a natural disaster beyond belief. In the United States, a rural area the size of Pennsylvania will have been absorbed by urban development by 2050. To counter the loss of land, the only solution is denser, more compact urban areas - building the city on the city. At first glance, the idea may seem scary - dense, closing in on itself, will tomorrow’s cities allow people to breathe? If the word makes you want to grab the nearest oxygen mask, a compact city is not synonymous with huge gray buildings. Urban planners have shown that a typical Parisian Haussmann district and its 6 or 7 floor buildings is much denser than a 20 floor skyscraper complex in Hong Kong! Consequently, it is more about making the best use of the possibilities in built-up areas, from the street to the rooftops, by installing homes, offices, shops in a small space - without forgetting that public spaces, parks and gardens are essential to the comfort of the residents - all connected by an optimum public transport network.

Cheaper electricity bills!

The result is an urban setting with high environmental quality - forget the traffic jams, air pollution and lack of vegetation, in a compact city your home is close to your work, the pool or the cinema, or is connected to them by bus, tram or bicycle in traffic jam free streets… consequently reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the city, along with overall energy consumption. The most glaring difference is the cheaper electricity bills! In Japan urban areas are about five times denser than in Canada, but require much less electricity to operate - just 40% of Canada’s consumption! Serving more people and spaces, cooling and heating systems are optimized and so save on natural resources. Finally, not only is a compact city better for the health of the planet, but the same is true for its residents. With shorter distances to travel, quality of life improves, the day to day routine of commuting to work is ancient history, and public spaces mean sporty city folk avoid frequent trips to the drugstore – there is no better remedy against respiratory and cardiovascular risks that gentle exercise, with walking and cycling in the lead! A small step for residents, and a great leap for the planet perhaps?