Friday, 8 March 2013

BSP Seminar - Compact cities or garden suburbs?

Dr. Nicolas Falk presented for Bartlett School of Planning. Image is taken by Networking City

In this year, Bartlett School of Planning run BSP seminar series over the semesters. On 6 March 2013, Dr. Nicolas Falk, Director of URBED (Urbanism Environment Design), provided a presentation the title of “Compact cities or garden suburbs?” at Central House of UCL.

Because I was bit late, I could not watch all his presentation. He suggested simple but well-summarised planning keywords and showed relevant examples over the European cities. For example, he argued there are five key elements to reach Smart Growth. The five keys can be represented as 5C: community, connectivity, character, climate and collaboration. And he mentioned the meaning of the community with examples such as  ‘Schools as community hub with Houton, NL’ and ‘Places for all ages with Reiselfeld, Freiburg, Germany'.

Connected city, Five finger strategy and Redefining Greenbelt were mentioned as the future direction for smart growth in the UK as the conclusion of the lecture. In particular, he had expressed the negative feeling against current Greenbelt policy. According to him, the greenbelt of London is little bit old-fashioned and the greenbelt has been a strong obstacle to expand development areas and connecting between London and other cities. Although he said Redefining Greenbelt as one issue of the future direction, all three items should be accompanied with the reorganisation of London’s greenbelt. 

During his lecture, some questions were emerging by myself. Is really Green belt the obstruction of smart growth? Is there smart growth? If possible, how are different process and method needed compared to typical urban development? How can it work in high density?

I think there are two reasons why the questions were come up.
In the first, he emphasised the term of ‘smart’ and ‘smarter’ several times in his lecture. However, the term, smart, has been considering with the development of technology in our built-environment while his suggestions and examples were more familiar with sustainable urban planning and design.
Secondly, the key issues what he argued are too abstract and vague. We know community, connectivity, character, climate and collaboration are crucial factors. People might want to listen from him how we can achieve those factors, what kind of process, the roles of stakeholders and so on.

One of his lecutre slide. Image is taken by Networking City

There are good materials of urban design, field research and regional study on the homepage of URBED. They have run urban design and architectural design studios at University of Sheffield, so we can find the links of interesting students’ works. Also, they published ‘Sustainable Urban Neighbourhood’ in 2010 what includes some contents of today’s lecture.


  1. The problem with opening up the Green Belt debate is that Dr Falks is missing to key three issues:

    First that the are significant tracts of 'previously developed land' that developers have agreed planning permission for but they are just sitting on it. There are over 100,000 sites in London alone: (;

    Second, we need to focus on retrofitting and refurb of existing sites;

    Third, the ecosystem services that the Green Belt and open spaces provide address at least three of the 'c' issues in terms of Community (health and wellbeing), Character (aesthetic and land value), and Climate (adaptation and Carbon storage.

    Its very easy in the rush to develop to take the quick option. Developers need to also think in the medium to longer term to capture valuable asset of the Green Belt and not throw the baby out with the bathwater (

    1. Thank you for your comment and good links. I agree your opinion to view Green Belt. I believe Grenn Belt should be kept for urban health rahter than urban development. For example, the air pollution in London (also other cities) is getting worse and the government would not achieve the air quality standard until 2025. ( )