High-density cities & environmental sustainability

Given that more compact and dense cities are more environmentally sustainable as they reduce the need for lengthy commutes, should Hackney environmentalists be pro-actively supporting tall residential developments on brownfield sites in Hackney and other inner-London boroughs such as the one that’s just been proposed for the site adjacent to Dalston Kingsland station?; http://www.yeahhackney.com/18-storey-block-adjacent-to-dalston-kingsland-station/Isn’t opposing such tall developments in effect a call for more low-rise urban sprawl across green-belt which the European Environment Agency (EEA) has called “the worst-case scenario”? “


  1. Alex Steffen is reportedly the environmentalist responsible for persuading Seattle to adopt its goal of carbon-neutrality.Here’s some excerpts from a short interview;\If we’re talking about transportation the best thing a city can do is densify as quickly as it can. That needs to be said every time this issue comes up because it’s the only universal strategy that works.”He goes on;”In quite a few cities most civic engagement is mostly a matter of fighting development people saying “not in my backyard.”……One of the most unfortunate side effects of the urban activism of the ’60s and ’70s is the belief that development is wrong and that fighting it makes you an environmentalist….what happens in cities that don’t grow is that they gentrify and poor people are pushed out. Trying to fight change makes you less sustainable and more unfair.”Read more: http://www.utne.com/Environment/What-Would-It-Take-Carbon-Neutral-City.aspx#ixzz1pvrYXpIbAnd here’s a Government spokesperson explaing why the UK is now introducing huge changes to planning law;”People don’t want to see high-rise flats being built….so unfortunately there is little choice other than building on greenfield sites”.http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/the-builders-charter-osborne-to-overturn-65-years-of-planning-law-7579471.html

  2. @benjamin   You can’t confuse the issue of density with the typology of high rise buildings.  High rise does not equal high density. The densest part of london is Mayfair. You might find this interesting…. http://www.singleaspect.org.uk/?p=7321

  3. @euan Being the densest part of a predominantly low-rise city isn’t a great achievment and doesn’t really tell us much. The majority of Mayfair is probably 6-10 storeys (my estimate) and most of residential inner-London is probably 2-4 storeys. So one would have to demolish most of the existing historic low-rise and replace it with mid-rise in order to achieve Mayfair densities without high-rise – I doubt you’re advocating that. The question is how do you significantly increase density without mass demolition, and, for the most part, that leaves us with relatively small brownfield infill sites.I think your confusion over densities of high-rise stems from what kind of developments you’re looking at. It’s true that many large high-rise estates of the ’60s included large areas of green space around them which brought down average density per acre. But most densification needs to be accomodated on smaller infill sites. You’re inadvertently making an argument against green space, not high-rise. Let’s take a real-life local example;http://lovingdalston.co.uk/2012/03/more-disdain-heaped-on-dalston-green-ecotower/‘Dalston Green/ecotower’ proposal has 18 storeys and contains 130 flats. If you can get that kind of density in low/mid-rise development on that site I’d love to see a sketch – as would the developer I’m sure. Ask yourself a few questions;1. If a private developer could get the same densities out of low/mid-rise as they could from high-rise why would they ever go to the expense and trouble of building up?2. Why does the Government state that the reason it is having to introduce hugely unpopular policy changes on planning law to facilitate urban sprawl over greenbelt is because “People don’t want to see high-rise flats being built”?3. If high-rise is not necessary why do most major cities in the world rely on them to provide large amounts of accomodation close to the centre?I’m afraid there’s no escaping the fact that downwards pressure on buildings has the effect of exacerbating urban sprawl.Harvard urban economist and environmentalist Edward Glaeser’s very popular book ‘Triumph Of The City – How Our Greatest Invention Makes Us Richer Smarter Greener Healthier and Happier’ is good on this subject.(Incidentally another big benefit from developments such as the one for Dalston would be the huge benefit that the influx of hundreds of new residents would have for our struggling high street businesses. But I’m digressing here.)”

  4. in my experience, the use of environmentalism as an argument against urban development is a NIMBYist fig leaf. Its one of the many tools that nu-yuppies use to pretend that theyre right-on, forward looking, inclusive people, when at the end of the day theyre just as reactionary as their home counties upbringing made them. Therefore trying to argue the logic of the positive aspects of high rise with regards to environment wont get you very far, im afraid!

  5. @gavinredknap I agree with you in part. I think some groups are being deceitful and using \environmentalism” as a fig leaf to mask self-service but others are just ignorant;http://sustainablehackney.org.uk/profiles/blogs/dalston-tower-block-refused-planning-permission

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