Governance: Compact cities: the way of the future


13/06/2012 - Governments faced with growing populations and dwindling natural resources have two choices: they can let urban sprawl continue to eat up useful land or they can plan compact cities that will be good for the economy and the environment.


By 2050, 70% of the world’s population – more than 5.5 billion people – will live in urban areas. This population boom, combined with threats of global warming, high energy prices and tight government budgets make a convincing argument for better planning. Using the examples of Melbourne, Paris, Portland, Toyama and Vancouver, OECD’s new Compact City Policies: a comparative assessment says that, with the right policies, compact cities can protect the environment, foster regional economic growth and offer a better quality of life.


As well as preserving biodiversity, farmland directly adjacent to cities encourages local food consumption, reduces the distance the food travels and limits green house gas emissions. For citizens, the high cost of energy will be off-set by shorter travel time, access to public transport and access to local services and jobs. For governments looking to save money, compact cities offer more efficient infrastructure investment and reduce the cost of maintenance for transport, energy, water supply, and waste disposal.


“The core value of a compact city is its capacity to integrate urban policy goals such as economic viability, environmental sustainability and social equity”, OECD Deputy Secretary-General Rintaro Tamaki emphasized at the launch of the report.


Noting that lack of comparative data can prevent governments from taking decisive action, Compact City Policies: a comparative assessment contains the policy practices of almost 30 countries and gives 18 compact city indicators which can help governments to benchmark their results and improve their policy actions.


It also makes 5 recommendations to assist government policy planning:

  • National, regional and urban governments must work together and with other institutions to set explicit compact city goals which will help citizens and investors buy into the plan.
  • Encourage density, particularly in new developments and synchronise urban and rural land-use policies
  • Retrofit existing built-up areas, including industrial, business and residential, regenerate suburbs and promote public transport.
  • Enhance diversity of land use and quality of life by mixing commercial and residential land use for easy access to jobs and public services, creating public parks and green spaces, and making it attractive for people to walk and cycle.
  • Minimise advers effects of compact cities by limiting traffic congestion, encouraging affordable housing, promoting attractive urban design and public spaces, and greening built-up areas.

For further information, journalists can contact Tadashi Matsumoto, tel. : +01 45 24 10 80.


To obtain a copy of Compact City Policies: a comparative assessment, journalists can e-mail


Further information about OECD’s work on cities is available at:


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