How smart is smart growth? Examining the environmental validation behind city compaction

Ambio. 2019 Jun;48(6):580-589. doi: 10.1007/s13280-018-1087-y. Epub 2018 Aug 31.


Smart growth (SG) is widely adopted by planners and policy makers as an environmentally friendly way of building cities. In this paper, we analyze the environmental validity of the SG-approach based on a review of the scientific literature. We found a lack of proof of environmental gains, in combination with a great inconsistency in the measurements of different SG attributes. We found that a surprisingly limited number of studies have actually examined the environmental rationales behind SG, with 34% of those studies displaying negative environmental outcomes of SG. Based on the insights from the review, we propose that research within this context must first be founded in more advanced and consistent knowledge of geographic and spatial analyses. Second, it needs to a greater degree be based on a system's understanding of urban processes. Third, it needs to aim at making cities more resilient, e.g., against climate-change effects.

Keywords: City compaction; City densification; Environmentally friendly urban development; Smart growth; Sustainable urban development.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Cities
  • Climate Change*
  • Sustainable Development*