International Handbook of Urban Policy, Volume 1
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International Handbook of Urban Policy, Volume 1

Contentious Global Issues

Edited by H. S. Geyer

This first Handbook in a series of three original reference works looks at globally contentious urban policy issues from a wide variety of different angles and perspectives. Matters related to urban densification, population mobility, urban inequality and sustainability are analysed in a manner that will not only interest the advanced student but also the novice.
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Chapter 2: The Debate on Sprawl and Compact Cities: Thoughts Based on the Congress of New Urbanism Charter

P. Gordon and H. W. Richardson


P. Gordon and H.W. Richardson Introduction Many current urban policy discussions focus on concerns over ‘urban sprawl’. The term is usually left undefined except by way of contrasts with abstractions such as ‘orderly’, ‘well planned’ or ‘compact development’. But cities are complex organizations, still largely driven more by market forces than by the expansion of regulations. Urbanization has been key to the evolution from subsistence levels, especially but not limited to the last century (DeLong, 1999). How do cities contribute? Two simple questions suggest a quick answer. Are there more positive or more negative externalities in the modern economy? That question is easily answered by posing another question. Why are there cities? Locators compete for sites and site owners compete for locators. Competition extends among and across cities. Cities succeed and prosper as long as they are attractive places to live and work – and innovate (Jacobs, 1961; Hall, 1998). However, spatial concentration is also costly. Yet these costs are acceptable as long as location at any site confers marginal benefits greater than marginal costs. The urban sprawl critique is problematic because, as we will show, it ignores how and why cities exist, function and prosper. There has been a mound of research on the case for and against sprawl.1 Rather than repeat this discussion, this chapter will approach the issue from a more philosophical perspective by contrasting the principles of markets and consumer sovereignty with those of interventionism and even social engineering as represented by viewpoints such as...

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