Downtown High-Rise vs. Suburban Low-Rise Living: A Pilot Study on Urban Sustainability

Peng Du
China Office Director & Academic Coordinator
Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat, Chicago



There has been a long-standing debate on whether urban living is more or less sustainable than suburban living. Against the backdrop of more than one million people urbanizing on our planet every week, it has become generally assumed that the “dense vertical” city is more sustainable than the “dispersed horizontal” city, which requires more land usage as well as a higher energy expenditure in infrastructure and mobility. Studies to date have, however, been mostly generic, based on large data sets of generalized data regarding whole-urban energy consumption, or large-scale transport patterns. Crucially, there are very few studies that also take into account a ‘quality of life’ aspect to urban vs. suburban living, in addition to the energy equation.

The presentation covered a significant research project conducted by CTBUH that investigates and compares the sustainability of people’s lifestyles in multiple key areas from environmental and social perspectives, using Chicago based case studies. In doing this, though it draws reference to large-scale published studies, the emphasis is placed on obtaining real quality data wherever possible. The research provides details on home operational energy use; the embodied energy of the dwelling; home water consumption; mobility and transport movements, including both private and public transport; infrastructure networks; public open space; and quality of life, in both downtown high-rise and suburban low-rise living, using Downtown Chicago and the suburban community of Oak Park as case studies.

Accompanying PowerPoint Presentation

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