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

  • Åsa Gren
  • Johan Colding
  • Meta Berghauser-Pont
  • Lars Marcus


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.


City compaction City densification Environmentally friendly urban development Smart growth Sustainable urban development 



This work was funded by The Stockholm County Council and Stockholm University, Sweden, and the FORMAS project: “Analysing city-densification from an ecological resilience perspective.”

Supplementary material

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Copyright information

© Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.The Beijer Institute of Ecological EconomicsThe Royal Swedish Academy of SciencesStockholmSweden
  2. 2.The Stockholm Resilience CentreStockholm UniversityStockholmSweden
  3. 3.Department of Building, Energy and Environmental EngineeringUniversity of GävleGävleSweden
  4. 4.Chalmers University of TechnologyGothenburgSweden

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