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Compact vs dispersed development


I have been asked to do some background reading on the issue of environmental impacts of compact vs dispersed development. Things like city size and energy use per person, eco-footprints etc. Also interested in criticisms of these methods of measuring environmental impact.

I'm also meant to look into ways of "describing cities spatially".

Would be most grateful for references to introductory/background information in this area :)

Lee Nellis

You need to look at William Rees' work on ecological footprints. He is a prof at the University of British Columbia. Overall, I think any simple measure or indicator of impact has limited applicability, but that doesn't mean it will not be useful in a given context.

I haven't seen much literature on energy consumption, but would try the Rocky Mountain Institute as a starting place on that. I personally like to start with hydrological impacts: I would look at the literature on the impact of impervious surfaces. Derek Booth comes to mind as a researcher in this field. The Journal of the American Planning Association published a fairly recent article on this that was helpful. Also look at the classic: Leopold and Dunne's Water in Environmental Planning.


There is a mountain of information on this sort of thing. There would be a number of technical papers by the Australian Productivity Commission that would touch on the issues - http://www.pc.gov.au/index.html. Also the NSW Department of Infrastructure Planning and Natural Resources http://www.planning.nsw.gov.au/index1.html.

Leonie Sandercock wrote a book called something like 'Urban Development on the Cheap' - she sought to dismiss some of the claims of efficiency for conslidated urban forms. Probably a little dated now but worth a look.

Polaris Planner

Check the following link for ecological footprint:


Also check the same "iclei" site (The International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives) under their "Cities for Climate Protection" program for information on energy use:


Although I have not personally done any work related to ecological footprint, my impression from reading is that data outputs that one can obtain from ecological footprint calculations are all based on a lot of assumptions and approximations. For example, it is very difficult to obtain local data on fuel use (let alone total energy use) for a specifc community. Often calculations are based on national per capita consumption data and multiplied by population.

Ecological footprint calculations are therefore very useful as a tool of conceptal thinking and as a means of educating the public. It can also be very useful in comparing First World and Third World cities. I doublt very much that you can find reliable and significant differences between First World cities, for example.