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Proponents of urban consolidation or the compact city often look to European cities to see how we might counter the low density ‘sprawl’ that has characterized urban development in this country.  Concerted efforts have been underway since the late 1980s to make Australian cities denser, with compact city ambitions or ideas underpinning or rationalizing their development. In this paper, I am not concerned to analyse or evaluate these efforts or their outcomes but to inquire instead into our understanding or impression of at least some of our European mentors in this regard and, by implication, the limited alternatives for our urban future that Peter Newman and Jeff Kenworthy (1992) offer:

"Australia has a choice: it can continue to follow the American example of suburban sprawl and high energy use, or it can plan for higher-density European-style cities" (Newman and Kenworthy 1992: 9)

The paper turns out to be a tale of two cities: one is the European city compact city theorists see, the other is what I see, and they are not the same thing - at least not in respect of the two cities I shall consider, namely, Stockholm and Copenhagen.

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