Hosted by the School of Design’s Urban Environments Lab
Convener and Corresponding Contact: Henry Endemann -


Conventional paradigms of urban design and planning require an update. The scales and complexities of contemporary urbanization fundamentally disrupt the challenges that urban research and practice have to deal with. Just think of megaregions, operational landscapes of resource extraction, drone technology, 5G, or the COVID-19 pandemic and how these things are heavily influencing economies, societies, and environments. 

The Compact City is the perfect example for a paradigm that is used just as frequently as it is criticized. Designers, planners, and policy-makers promote urban compactness as the basis for sustainable development. However, urban theorists note that the effects of urban compactness are highly ambiguous: while building more densely and closer to public transport nodes may have economic benefits, it is far from certain that such principles are also beneficial in environmental and social terms. Furthermore, most of the research on urban compactness investigates European and North-American cases. Applications to rapidly growing agglomerations in the Global South and East-Asia remain scarce. Hence, more exploration is needed in order to clarify what the Compact City is, if it is desirable, and how it should be adapted to today’s urban realities.



This symposium brings together urban researchers and practitioners from around the world to discuss the future of the Compact City. Particular interest lies on old and new ways of assessing the effects of urban compactness, as well as old and new strategies to achieve forms of compactness that are economically, socially, and environmentally sustainable. The central questions to discuss are: 

  • What are suitable scales on which urban compactness should be assessed?
  • Is the Compact City only a matter of urban form, or can there be alternative ways of creating and comprehending urban compactness such as “compact flows”?
  • Is it necessary to promote urban compaction or do economic logics (especially agglomeration economies) already produce similar - and maybe undesirable - spatial patterns?
  • What elements are needed for a holistic strategic framework of sustainable urban compaction?

After all, the symposium aims to point towards conclusions on whether the Compact City is a paradigm that should be pursued further as a basis for sustainable spatial development, if it needs to be fundamentally reinvented, or if it should even be counteracted and framed as an abusive instrument of capitalist urbanization. 


The panels approach the topic from geographical, economic, and sociological  perspectives as the basis to extract new positions for designing and planning better urban space. To kick off the event, several early-career urbanists will shortly present their take on the Compact City, based on their recently completed master theses. The rest of the event is structured into two panels wit presentations and discussions. In each of the panels, a group of experts takes a certain perspective on Compact City research. The sessions are moderated by academic staff of the Hong Kong PolyU School of Design, who helps to reflect the interdisciplinary insights back into the design disciplines. 

The first panel focuses on approaches that are concerned with the theoretical and conceptual background of the Compact City. Experts on urban and environmental design, regional planning, human geography, and political science discuss possible alternatives to the conventional conception of compactness and the implications that it has for current urban development. 

The second panel focuses on approaches to measure and assess urban compactness. Building up on the first panel, experts on economic geography, data-science, architecture, and policy-making discuss ways to determine “how compact” an urban area is, and which strategies for future development can be derived from this. 

Ongoing restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic continue to make face-to-face meetings difficult. The symposium turns this condition into an opportunity as it brings together scholars from around the world for a virtual debate. Structured as a half-day event and hosted from Hong Kong, participants from the UK to New Zealand will be able to join the symposium and discuss the future of better urban spaces, compact or not.



Prof. Gabriel Ahlfeldt

Professor of Urban Economics and Land Development, Department of Geography and Environment, London School of Economics, United Kingdom

In his research, Gabriel Ahlfeldt is interested in how various agglomeration forces shape the spatial distribution of economic activity. His research also analyses the impact of various spatial policies on local house prices, labor markets, political preferences and urban structure. As of 2018, Prof Ahlfeldt has published 39 articles in peer-refereed journals, among them general interest economics journals such as EconometricaReview of Economics and StatisticsJournal or the European Economics Association, or Economic Journal, as well as in a wide range of urban economics, economic geography, regional science, urban planning and urban studies journals. His results have also been disseminated to a wider public audience via television, radio and WebTV as well as various print media. His research has been supported by the Fritz-Thyssen-Foundation, the German Science Foundation (DFG), the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, and the Suntory and Toyota International Centres for Economics and Related Disciplines. His expertise has recently been commissioned by English Heritage, the OECD, WRI, and the Darmstadt Chamber of Commerce.

Dr Gerhard Bruyns

Associate Professor for Environment and Interior Design, School of Design, The Hong Kong Polytechnic University, Hong Kong SAR

Gerhard Bruyns is an architect and urbanist. He is Associate Professor and Discipline Leader of Environment and Interior Design, School of Design at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University. He is the Convener of the PhD Program at SD, PolyU. He holds a PhD and MSc degree from the TU Delft, The Netherlands. Previously Dr Bruyns held tenure as faculty member of the Delft School of Design. He worked in practice in South Africa before joining the TU Delft’s Department of Urbanism. He has been an invited jury member to architecture schools in South Africa, Asia, South America, the US and Europe. He is Executive Team member of the International Forum of Urbanism, Editorial Board Member of Cubic Journal and Journal New Design Ideas.

Prof. Martin de Jong

Professor at Erasmus School of Law and Rotterdam School of Management, Initiative for the Dynamics of Inclusive Prosperity, Erasmus University Rotterdam, The Netherlands

Martin de Jong is scientific director of the Erasmus Initiative for the Dynamics of Inclusive Prosperity and professor at Rotterdam School of Management and Erasmus School of Law, Erasmus University Rotterdam. He is also distinguished visiting professor at the Institute for Global Public Policy, Fudan University. He holds a master’s degree in public policy from Erasmus University Rotterdam and a PhD in systems engineering and policy analysis from Delft University of Technology. He devoted much of his career on topics of cross-national institutional transplantation, planning and decision-making processes and urban and infrastructure development in China.

Kristin Kjaeras

PhD Fellow, Department of Geography, University of Bergen, Norway

Kristin Kjaeras is a PhD fellow at the Department of Geography and Centre for Climate and Energy Transformation at the University of Bergen. Her areas of interest and research include urban climate politics and governance, urban transformation and the politics of urban life. Her main research area focuses on the politics of housing policy and compact city strategies in Oslo, Norway. She is a member of the research group SpaceLab (the Spaces of Climate and Energy Laboratory) at the University of Bergen.

Dr Kostas Mouratidis

Postdoctoral Researcher, Department of Urban and Regional Planning, Norwegian University of Life Sciences, Norway

Kostas Mouratidis is Postdoctoral Researcher at the Department of Urban and Regional Planning at the Norwegian University of Life Sciences (NMBU). His research focuses on urban livability and urban mobility and includes topics such as cities and quality of life, residential well-being, transport and well-being, and emerging urban mobility. He has conducted extensive research on the compact city and how it relates to human behavior and quality of life. Among others, he has explored links between compact urban form and travel behavior, social interaction, physical activity, neighborhood satisfaction, travel satisfaction, social cohesion, and subjective well-being.

Dr Shibu Raman

Lecturer, Welsh School of Architecture, Cardiff University, United Kingdom

Dr Raman is an architect and urban designer trained in the UK and India. He has over 20 years of experience in teaching, research and practicing architecture and urban design and has a number of completed projects in India and UK and number of peer reviewed journal articles and book chapters. On completion of his degree in architecture, he worked with Pritzker Prize winning architect Dr B V Doshi at his practice ‘Sangath’ at Ahmedabad, India for over 4 years before moving to UK to pursue a masters and an academic career. Dr Raman joint Welsh School of Architecture (WSA), Cardiff University in 2015 as a lecturer in architecture and urban design following three years in China where as a Course Director, lead the setting up and RIBA validation of the architecture programme at the University of Nottingham, Ningbo, China. His research interest and experience in designing sustainable urban neighborhoods, urban design for aging, design of spaces and behavior, social sustainability of cities, spatial network analysis, urban development in transitional economies. He is the Founder-Director of the research network called CityForm (, which is investigating the relationship of urban form to urban sustainability and quality of life.  He has presented his research or delivered keynote address in number of prestigious conferences around the worked including UN Habitat, Space Syntax Symposium and Smart Geometries. In addition to the UK, he has lectured and taught in India, China, and South Korea.

Prof. Brenda Vale

Professorial Research Fellow, School of Architecture, University of Wellington, New Zealand

Brenda Vale has worked with Robert Vale as both architect and academic. They wrote their first book on sustainable design, “The Autonomous House”, in 1975. Following their design of several award winning sustainable commercial buildings in the UK, they went on to design and build the UK’s first autonomous house in 1993 and the first zero-emissions settlement in 1998. They have received international recognition, including awards from the United Nations and the European Solar Energy Society. More recently, they developed the Australian government’s National Australian Built Environment Rating System (NABERS) which has now been put into operation. Recent environmental books include “Time to Eat the Dog? The real guide to sustainable living”, which analyzed the impact on the environment of a western lifestyle and things people do every day, and “Living within a Fair Share Ecological Footprint” which has chapters written by many of their former and existing postgraduate students. This talk draws on the two most recent books—“Unravelling resilience and sustainability” (with Emilio Garcia) and “Collapsing Gracefully” (with Emilio Garcia and Robert Vale), currently in press.

Henry Endemann

School of Design, The Hong Kong Polytechnic University, Hong Kong SAR

Henry Endemann holds a BSc in Urban and Regional Planning from the University of Kassel (Germany), and an MSc in Urbanism from the TU Delft (The Netherlands). Currently, he is doing his PhD research at The Hong Kong Polytechnic University (Urban Environments Lab, School of Design). His main research interest lies in scenario-building for urban development in megaregions, as well as the Compact City as a paradigm in theory and practice. Besides his academic work, Henry has relevant practical experience in urban design and planning through working with offices in Germany and The Netherlands.

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