Dense high-rise cities offer some advantages in terms of sustainability but have considerable downsides. Low-dense and medium-rise typologies have been shown to offer good social qualities; their potential energy and carbon advantages have received less attention. As the energy consumption, emissions of cities and heat island effects increase; we question whether dense, high-rise cities offer optimal sustainability. We discuss seven areas where medium density and lower rise typologies offer advantages in terms of energy and climate including: land use/density; microclimate/green space; energy supply; transports; operational energy/carbon; embodied energy/carbon; and resilience.

The aim is to discuss the cumulative importance of these areas in the context of sustainable energy use and climate emissions. These areas are subject to ongoing research and are only discussed briefly, since the overarching synthesis perspective for urban planning is our focus. The picture that emerges when these points are seen together, suggests that medium density and lower rise options—like traditional European typologies—may offer, in addition to social qualities, very significant advantages in terms of energy, carbon and climate emissions.

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