How smart is smart growth? Examining the environmental validation behind city compaction
Review article, 2019

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.

Sustainable urban development

Smart growth

Environmentally friendly urban development

City compaction

City densification


Åsa Gren

The Royal Swedish Academy of Science

Johan Colding

Stockholm University

The Royal Swedish Academy of Science

University of Gävle

Meta Berghauser Pont

Chalmers, Architecture and Civil Engineering, Urban Design and Planning

Lars Marcus

Chalmers, Architecture and Civil Engineering, Urban Design and Planning


0044-7447 (ISSN)

Vol. 48 6 580-589

Driving Forces

Sustainable development

Areas of Advance

Building Futures (2010-2018)

Subject Categories

Social Sciences Interdisciplinary

Environmental Management

Environmental Analysis and Construction Information Technology





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