Assumed Qualities of Compact Cities: Divergences Between the Global North and the Global South in the Research Discourse
Paper in proceeding, 2016

Compact cities are promoted widely in policy as a response to current societal challenges, but it is unclear or ambiguous what qualities or benefits a compact city is supposed to deliver. In research, the compact city concept is widely debated in the literature, and there are many arguments both for and against compact cities. However, many studies or reviews tend to apply a delimited approach, discussing a confined number of qualities or base the assessment on quite narrow empirical material. Research is also carried out from within a number of separate disciplines or “discourses”. An improved understanding of the wide spectrum of compact city qualities would support better planning, governance and management of cities. This paper therefore aims to provide an improved understanding of the wide spectrum of compact city qualities in support of better planning, governance and management of cities in the Global South. The objective is to present a review of current articles discussing the compact city to capture similarities and differences in the academic discourse between Global North and Global South contexts, and to outline a comprehensive compact city taxonomy. The analysis is based on literature searches in the Scopus database for 2012-2015, using the search term “compact city”. A quantitative assessment was carried out, sifting out what terms are used to label purported (or debated) qualities of compact cities. Papers are sorted into different categories according to geoeconomic context (i.e., Global North, BRICS, Global South). The outcome is an extended taxonomy of compact city qualities, including twelve categories. Weaknesses in compact city research aimed at cities in the Global South were identified, especially linked to nature, health, environment issues, quality of life, sociocultural aspects, justice and economy, as well as a significant lack of compact city research linked to urban adaptability and resilience.

urban qualities

Global South

Compact city


Global North


Jaan-Henrik Kain

Chalmers, Architecture

Jenny Stenberg

Chalmers, Architecture

Marco Adelfio

Chalmers, Architecture

Michael Oloko

Liane Thuvander

Chalmers, Architecture

Patrik Zapata

University of Gothenburg

María José Zapata Campos

University of Gothenburg

17th N-AERUS Conference: 2016 Gothenburg (Sweden). Gothenburg, 16-19 November, 2016.

Subject Categories

Architectural Engineering

Driving Forces

Sustainable development

Areas of Advance

Building Futures (2010-2018)

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