So, having just written I am unabashedly in favour of increasing population densities in the Inner West, in my usual read-like-a-crazy-man way I stumbled across a quasi-counterpaper from Journal of the American Planning Association.
Download the pdf here (1Mb) . I include it here in interests of balanced debate.
The study’s no knockdown – it’s based on simulations and takes a lot of Green assumptions as granted. It focuses on the assumed environmental and energy benefits of urban consolidation; not on equity, house prices or social engagement, which are the guts of my argument.
Their identified takeaway is [my emphasis]:
Urban form policies can have important impacts on local environmental quality, economy, crowding, and social equity, but their influence on energy consumption and land use is very modest; compact development should not automatically be associated with the preferred spatial growth strategy.
As an aside it is kinda sad that in a journal professionals need to be counselled to exercise their judgement in their profession, and not “automatically” associate certain outcomes. One would hope they would look at the details of the specific circumstances, no?
Also interesting was the review reference to a US Transportation Research Board paper:
The Transport Research Board (2009) analyzed studies based on observed data of U.S. cities to investigate the claim that compaction reduces vehicular travel, and concluded that it had a very modest effect…
But the kicker is in the Conclusion, where effects of consolidation on housing choice, crowding and congestion may be negative (that may is always a warning, especially in a simulation-based paper):
The current planning policy strategies for land use and transport have virtually no impact on the major long-term increases in resource and energy consumption. They generally tend to increase costs and reduce economic competitiveness.
The relatively small differences between options are overwhelmed by the impacts of socioeconomic change and population growth …
Smart growth principles should not unquestioningly promote increasing levels of compaction on the basis of reducing energy consumption without also considering its potential negative consequences. In many cases, the potential socioeconomic consequences of less housing choice, crowding, and congestion may outweigh its very modest CO2 reduction benefits.