Cities and Urban Planning Compact Cities and Sustainability
Compact Cities in Asia:
Problm or Solution?

GDRC Research in Progress

Urbanizing cities in the Asia Pacific Region have gained considerable attention recently not only due to the rapid rate of urbanization, but also due to the host of problems that have cropped up as a result. It is estimated that by the year 2000, 14 of the world's mega-cities that house more than 10 million people will be in the Asia-Pacific region.

Concentration of goods and services in cities has long been recognised to create positive externalities in the form of, for example, economies of scale. It has also generated a GDP far in excess of their share of total population. But while the concentrations of population and economic activities have stimulated higher levels of economic growth, it has also created a host of negative impacts in the social and environmental spheres.

Taking into account the range and intensity of problems being faced, it is clear that urban governments alone cannot solve the problems and a whole range of stakeholders need to come together in order to make cities livable. With greater local autonomy, partnerships with community-based groups and non-governmental organizations are becoming critical for efficient city management.

The concept of a 'compact city' is a paradox - it advocates a process that is at the center of the problems being faced in today's cities: intensive use of existing urban areas, concentration instead of dispersion, mixing instead of separation, building in high densities etc. Compact city approaches call for a reconciled balance between spatial planning and local environmental policies - that is, promoting an environmental 'boundary' to spatial expansion plans.

The research explores major cities of the Asia-Pacific region including Bombay, Bangkok, Jakarta, Manila, Shanghai and other cities. It profiles them in terms of their existing urban problems and document the current policies and programmes of these cities that facilitate 'compact planning'. It explores in detail, the potential of compacting city functions - whether it is indeed a choice or a necessity for cities in the region.

Considering the regional scale at which the research is being done, it also briefly covers the issue of international agreements such as the Habitat Agenda and SDGs, and how compact city policies address the problems covered in the agreements. The effects of urban living have environmental consequences far beyond its immediate administrative borders, and such global 'footprints' of cities is also taken into consideration in the research.

KEYWORDS: cities, Asia-Pacific region, mixed landuse, transportation networks/nodes, squatters and slums, urban governance, capacity building.

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