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Compact City Policies: A Comparative Assessment


Key Facts
 | Key Policy issues | Recommendations

Table of contents | How to obtain this book

Compact Cities

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This report offers a comprehensive understanding of the compact city concept, its role in today’s urban contexts, and the potential outcomes of compact city policies. It examines compact city policies across the OECD in relation to green growth objectives and the role of indicators in tracking policy performance. It proposes compact city strategies and ideas for achieving better outcomes and highlights governance challenges for implementing practical compact city strategies. Importantly, it highlights how urban spatial policies can help foster economic growth and development while preventing environmental degradation and climate change. The report thus addresses a central concern of the OECD Green Growth Strategy, and provides an important contribution to it.

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Key facts

  • There is a global trend toward urbanisation that has environmental and economic impacts. By 2050, 70% of the world's population - and 86% in OECD countries - will live in urban areas.
  • The continuing growth of urban populations calls for a policy response that optimises land resources. Land consumption for built-up areas will increase more rapidly than the population in 30 out of 34 OECD countries.
  • Demographics have changed. For example, the elderly population has doubled over the past 60 years in OECD countries and tripled worldwide. Urban policies will need to be tailored to the specific needs of the population.
  • The impacts of global warming and increasing energy prices require new responses. The recent economic crisis has exacerbated the problem by reducing governments' abilities to invest in solutions such as new infrastructure.


Key policy issues

  • What are compact cities and how do they contribute to urban sustainability?
  • How can we evaluate compact city policy outcomes?
  • How can we tailor the policy response to different local circumstances?
  • What are the metropolitan governance challenges in developing and implementing compact city policies?


  • Compact cities have dense and proximate development patterns, are linked by public transport systems, and maintain accessibility to local services and jobs. As such, they play a significant role in responding to the needs of urban areas.
  • Compact cities lessen the impact on the environment, with shorter intra-urban distances and less automobile dependency. They play a part in the economy by increasing the efficiency of infrastructure investment and by giving residents easier access to services, jobs, and social networking.

  • Two types of indicators are used to measure compact city policy outcomes: those that represent "compactness" (density, proximity, public transport systems and accessibility to local services and jobs), and those that measure a compact city's performance in relation to other cities.

  • This report examines differences in policy practice in five case study areas, and underscores the need for tailoring policies to specific needs. For example, fast-growing regions where there is pressure for development, regulatory tools are important to prevent uncontrolled urban expansion.

  • Recommendations for compact city policy strategies: set explicit compact city goals; encourage dense and contiguous development at urban fringes; retrofit existing built-up areas; enhance diversity and quality of life in urban centres; minimise adverse negative effects.












Table of contents

Executive Summary


Chapter 1. The compact city concept in today’s urban contexts

This chapter discusses the meaning of the compact city concept and the implications of compact city policies in current urban contexts. It is divided into three main sections. The first discusses the definition of compact city. The second illustrates key urban trends that are relevant to the concept and to the need for compact cities. The third reviews the history and evolution of the compact city concept.

Chapter 2. How can compact city policies contribute to urban sustainability and green growth?

This chapter deals with the outcomes of compact city policies. It explores how a compact city can contribute to urban sustainability goals. A particular focus is the link between environmental and economic outcomes: how the compact city can help to support and foster economic growth while addressing environmental concerns. This is a central concern of the OECD’s Green Growth Strategy. This chapter also addresses concerns about the outcomes of compact city policies and presents ways for policy makers to handle this complex issue.

Chapter 3. Measuring the performance of a compact city

This chapter deals with indicators for monitoring and evaluating the performance of a compact city. First, it reviews previous attempts to measure compact city performance and discusses the relevance and availability of the indicators. Based on the review, the chapter proposes 18 indicators as core compact city indicators. It then applies the proposed indicators to OECD metropolitan areas, discusses effective ways of using them, and identifies challenges and areas for further research. Seven indicators are examined using 3-D maps and other geographic information system (GIS) tools: i) population and urban land growth; ii) population density on urban land; iii) trip distance; iv) urban land cover; v) trips using public transport; vi) proximity to public transport; and vii) matching local services and homes.


Chapter 4. Current compact city practices in OECD countries

This chapter looks at current compact city policy practices in OECD countries. First, it describes major policy instruments in OECD countries based on the results of the OECD survey and a literature review. Next, it takes a closer look at policy practices in the five case study metropolitan areas: Melbourne (Australia), Vancouver (Canada), Paris (France), Toyama (Japan) and Portland (United States). Finally, it presents a comparative assessment from three perspectives: first, how policy goals and strategies respond to different local circumstances; then, whether appropriate policy instruments are utilised to address multiple policy objectives, including environmental and economic sustainability; and finally, how current policy practices incorporate complementary strategies to minimise the potential adverse effects of compact cities.


Chapter 5. Key compact city policy strategies

This chapter, based on the findings and assessments of current compact city policies in Chapter 4, proposes five key compact city policy strategies to be shared among OECD member countries: i) set explicit compact city goals; ii) encourage dense and proximate development; iii) retrofit existing built-up areas; iv) enhance diversity and quality of life; and v) minimise adverse negative effects. Under the five strategies, 20 sub-strategies are also presented.


Chapter 6. Key compact city governance strategies

This chapter draws on the case studies to discuss metropolitan governance for compact city outcomes. It looks at the issue of horizontal co-ordination of municipalities into a single functional metropolitan area for policy design and programme delivery purposes as well as co-ordination within local government structures in view of the integrated, multi-sector nature of the compact city policy model. It then turns to vertical coherence among levels of government within a single metropolitan area. The chapter also takes stock of arrangements to foster ongoing citizen participation in the development and implementation of compact city policies. It considers fiscal issues, particularly in relation to investment to fund core infrastructure to achieve compact city outcomes. Finally, issues related to transparency, measuring performance, accountability and reporting are discussed.


Annex A. Compact city policies: country profiles


How to obtain this book

 Readers can access the full version of OECD Green Growth Studies: Compact City Policies: A Comparative Assessment by choosing from the following options:

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