Our understanding of urban form depends on how we perceive the city. Much of the literature on urban form (1) has focused on the pre-industrial and industrial city, celebrating its compact form, contiguous functions and single dominant centre. More recently writings by Castels (2) and Soja (3) have described the dispersed, city of the post industrial era. This networked city triggered by the freedom afforded by the new technology (4) has exposed a new dimension to urban form. The model of the compact city advocated by those such as Lord Rogers Task Force for delivering the Urban Renaissance (5) is being questioned (6) and a new model of “high density nodes, in a high density landscape resulting in a low density city,” as in the Deltametropolis, described by Dirk Frieling (7).
Compactness, cramming more development into the city and making public spaces of a higher density and quality, Rogers and Burdett argue (8) will make “urban living attractive, ecologically sustainable, economically strong and socially inclusive.” The alternative argument is that the economic success of cities is reliant on the networking of resources across a metropolitan region. Echenique argues (9) that cities disperse in their search for mobility and space. “Mobility increases the efficiency of households and firms which in turn generates more income and profits. As income increases, so does the demand for space, residential and commercial alike.”
Sustainability has become the current banner of political correctness. Sustainability however is a slippery word. It is easy to focus on one aspect and lose the value of its holistic meaning. For many architects “green buildings” equals a sustainable future. However, clever design solutions single-mindedly pursued with little regard to the wider exploration of the potential environmental savings that may be achieved through organisational innovation are only half the answer. A holistic approach concerned with both building and organisational design and focused on “ lean thinking” (10) could make considerable inroads into reducing the ecological footprint.
The paper draws on DEGW’s experience of advising major corporations and cities on strategies for managing the process of intensification and change (11). It explores how major improvements might be gained in meeting our goals for the sustainable city through reconsidering the way we work and allocate space. The underlying proposition is that technology has offered us new opportunities which have changed our paradigm of living and working. This in turn has provided us with a new perception of the city, as a distributed series of high density centres connected by good public and private transport, within a low density landscape. The paper argues that considerable improvements in workplace sustainability can be achieved by applying a holistic approach. These may include a combination of strategies, from rethinking the organisation of work processes and the locations and time work is undertaken, to reducing the need for resources by a more intensive use of land and floor space. Disjointed, dispersed “urban sprawl” can be wasteful. The alternative emerging urban form is a planned, dispersed, “networked” city with well integrated public and private transport that yields greater choice of location and lifestyles so supporting social, economic and environmental sustainability.