The Compact City and Contemporary Urbanization Processes:Discussing Alternative Interpretations of Urban Compactness

Henry Leonard Endemann, G Bruyns, Joern Henning Buehring

Research output: Unpublished conference presentation (presented paper, abstract, poster)Conference presentation (not published in journal/proceeding/book)Academic researchpeer-review


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, the Compact City requires a reconceptualization. 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. Existing interpretations are presented and compared regarding their suitability to form the basis for future research into more sustainable urban space.

The paper is structured into three parts. Firstly, the conventional understanding and common definitions and strategies of urban compactness are presented, based on relevant urban theory and research reports published by the OECD. Secondly, a short review and summary of the key ideas of theories such as Planetary Urbanization, Mega-Regionalization, and Peri-Urbanization provides a general overview of contemporary urbanization processes. This gives an impression of the phenomena that should be considered for a reconceptualization of the Compact City.
Thirdly, alternative interpretations of urban compactness are presented and discussed based on their relation to the urbanization processes presented beforehand. The chosen interpretations - Compactness as Autonomy; Regional Compactness; Compactness of Flows; and Relational Compactness - originate from existing theoretical literature. The comparison of the interpretations shows that each of them could serve as the starting point for a new conception of urban compactness that acknowledges the transformative processes shaping urban form. However, it is concluded that each of them also needs a substantial amount of further (empirical) investigation to specify its potential strengths and weaknesses.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 29 Jun 2021
EventThe 28th International Seminar of Urban Form (ISUF 2021) Conference in Glasgow, UK - Glasgow, Glasgow, United Kingdom
Duration: 29 Jun 20213 Jul 2021


ConferenceThe 28th International Seminar of Urban Form (ISUF 2021) Conference in Glasgow, UK
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom
Internet address


  • Compact City
  • urbanisation
  • planing paradigms
  • urban theory
  • mega-regional morphologies

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