Cover Image

Cities and Energy Consumption: a Critical Review

Carmela Gargiulo, Laura Russo


The relationship between cities and energy consumption has been of great interest for the scientific community for over twenty years. Most of the energy consumption, indeed, occurs in cities because of the high concentration of human activities. Thus, cities are responsible for a big share of carbon dioxide emissions (CO2). However, the debate on this topic is still open, mainly because of the heterogeneity of published studies in the selection, definition and measurement of the urban features influencing energy consumption and CO2 emissions, as well as in the choice of the energy sectors to be considered, in the territorial scale of analysis, and in the geographical distribution of the sample. Therefore, the goal of this research is to systematize and compare the approach, methodology and results of the relevant literature on the relationship between cities and energy consumption over the last twenty years. Furthermore, this critical review identifies the knowledge gap between what is known and what is still under debate and, based on that, it proposes a conceptual framework that will help to outline a new direction for future research and support local policy makers in the definition of strategies and actions that can effectively reduce urban energy use and CO2 emissions.


Cities; Energy Consumption; CO2 Emissions; Compact City; Sustainability

Full Text:



Anderson, W. P., Kanaroglou, P. S., & Miller, E. J. (1996). Urban form, energy and the environment: a review of issues, evidence and policy. Urban studies, 33(1), 7-35. doi:

Banister, D., Watson, S., & Wood, C. (1997). Sustainable cities: transport, energy, and urban form. Environment and Planning B: planning and design, 24(1), 125-143. doi:

Barresi, A., & Pultrone, G. (2013). European strategies for smarter cities. Tema. Journal of Land Use, Mobility and Environment, 6(1), 61-72. doi:

Battarra, R., Gargiulo, C., Pappalardo, G., Boiano, D.A., Oliva, J. S., (2016). Planning in the era of Information and Communication Technologies. Discussing the “label: Smart” in South European cities with environmental and socio-economic challenges, Cities Journal, doi: 0264-2751

Batty, M. (2008). Cities as complex systems: scaling, interactions, networks, dynamics and urban morphologies (UCL Working paper 131). Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis, University College London.

Baur, A. H., Thess, M., Kleinschmit, B., & Creutzig, F. (2013). Urban climate change mitigation in Europe: looking at and beyond the role of population density. Journal of Urban Planning and Development, 140(1), 04013003. doi:

Bereitschaft, B., & Debbage, K. (2013). Urban form, air pollution, and CO2 emissions in large US metropolitan areas. The Professional Geographer, 65(4), 612-635. doi:

Breheny, M. J. (2001). Densities and sustainable cities: the UK experience. In M. Eschenique, & A. Saint (Eds.), Cities for the new millennium. Spon Press.

Brownstone, D., & Golob, T. F. (2009). The impact of residential density on vehicle usage and energy consumption. Journal of Urban Economics, 65(1), 91-98. doi:

Burton, E. (2000). The compact city: just or just compact? A preliminary analysis. Urban studies, 37(11), 1969-2006. doi:

Camagni, R., Gibelli, M. C., & Rigamonti, P. (2002). Urban mobility and urban form: the social and environmental costs of different patterns of urban expansion. Ecological economics, 40(2), 199-216. doi:

Chen, Y., Li, X., Zheng, Y., Guan, Y., & Liu, X. (2011). Estimating the relationship between urban forms and energy consumption: a case study in the Pearl River Delta, 2005–2008. Landscape and urban planning, 102(1), 33-42. doi:

Chen, H., Jia, B., & Lau, S. S. Y. (2008). Sustainable urban form for Chinese compact cities: Challenges of a rapid urbanized economy. Habitat international, 32(1), 28-40. doi:

Clark, T. A. (2013). Metropolitan density, energy efficiency and carbon emissions: Multi-attribute tradeoffs and their policy implications. Energy Policy, 53, 413-428. doi:

Creutzig, F., Baiocchi, G., Bierkandt, R., Pichler, P. P., & Seto, K. C. (2015). Global typology of urban energy use and potentials for an urbanization mitigation wedge. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 112(20), 6283-6288. doi:

Doherty, M., Nakanishi, H., Bai, X., & Meyers, J. (2009). Relationships between form, morphology, density and energy in urban environments. GEA Background Paper. Available at:

Echenique, M. H., Hargreaves, A. J., Mitchell, G., & Namdeo, A. (2012). Growing cities sustainably: does urban form really matter? Journal of the American Planning Association, 78(2), 121-137. doi:

Ewing, R., & Rong, F. (2008). The impact of urban form on US residential energy use. Housing policy debate, 19(1), 1-30. doi:

FCCC – Framework Convention on Climate Change. (2015). Adoption of the Paris agreement.

Gargiulo, C. & Lombardi, C. (2016). Urban Retrofit and Resilience. The challenge of Energy Efficiency and Vulnerability. Tema. Journal of Land Use, Mobility and Environment, [S.l.], v. 9, n. 2, p. 137-162, ago. 2016. ISSN 1970-9870. doi:

Gargiulo, C., & Papa, R. (1993). Caos e caos: la città come fenomeno complesso. Per il XXI Secolo: una enciclopedia e un progetto, 297-306. ISBN 978-88-97110-15-6

Gargiulo, C., Tulisi, A., & Zucaro, F. (2016). Small green areas for energy saving: effects on different urban settlements. Arquitectura, Ciudad y Entorno, 11(32), 81-94. doi:

Gargiulo, C., Tulisi, A., & Zucaro, F. (2017). Chapter 11: Climate Change-Oriented Urban Green Network Design: A Decision Support Tool, Gakis K. & Pardalos P. (eds.) Network Design and Optimization for Smart Cities, World Scientific, Series on Computers and Operations Research: Volume 8, ISBN 978-981-3200-00-5 (hardcover), ISBN 978-981-3200-02-9 (ebook). Aviable at

Holden, E., & Norland, I. T. (2005). Three challenges for the compact city as a sustainable urban form: household consumption of energy and transport in eight residential areas in the greater Oslo region. Urban studies, 42(12), 2145-2166. doi:

IEA – International Energy Agency. (2016). Energy Technology Perspectives 2016. Towards Sustainable Urban Energy Systems.

Jabareen, Y. R. (2006). Sustainable urban forms their typologies, models, and concepts. Journal of planning education and research, 26(1), 38-52. doi:

Kennedy, C., Steinberger, J., Gasson, B., Hansen, Y., Hillman, T., Havranek, M., ... & Mendez, G. V. (2009). Greenhouse gas emissions from global cities. Environmental science & technology, 43(19), 7297-7302. doi:

Lee, S., & Lee, B. (2014). The influence of urban form on GHG emissions in the US household sector. Energy Policy, 68, 534-549. doi:

Levy, A. (1999). Urban morphology and the problem of the modern urban fabric: some questions for research. Urban Morphology, 3(2), 79-85. Available at:

Lynch, K. (1981). Good city form. Cambridge: MIT Press. ISBN 978-0-262-62046-8

Makido, Y., Dhakal, S., & Yamagata, Y. (2012). Relationship between urban form and CO 2 emissions: evidence from fifty Japanese cities. Urban Climate, 2, 55-67. doi:

Marshall, J. D. (2008). Energy-efficient urban form. Environmental science & technology, 42(9), 3133-3137. Available at:

Massa, P., & Campagna, M. (2014). Social Media Geographic Information: Recent Findings and Opportunities for Smart Spatial Planning. Tema. Journal of Land Use, Mobility and Environment, 0. doi:

Mindali, O., Raveh, A., & Salomon, I. (2004). Urban density and energy consumption: a new look at old statistics. Transportation Research Part A: Policy and Practice, 38(2), 143-162. doi:

Morelli, V. G., Weijnen, M., Van Bueren, E., Wenzler, I., De Reuver, M., & Salvati, L. (2013). Towards intelligently-sustainable cities. TeMA Journal of Land Use, Mobility and Environment, 6(1), 73-86. doi:

Newman, P. W., & Kenworthyy, J. R. (1989). Gasoline consumption and cities. Journal of the American planning association, 55(1), 24-37. doi:

Newton, P., Tucker, S., Ambrose, M. (2000). Housing form, energy use and greenhouse gas emissions, in: Williams, K., E. Burton and M. Jenks. (2000). Achieving Sustainable Urban Form. Spon Press, Taylor and Francis Group, London, pp. 74 – 84. ISBN 0-419-24450-6

Nuzzolo, A., Coppola, P., & Papa, E. (2014). Urban from and sustainability: modelling evidences from the empirical case study of RomeE. In ETC European Transport Conference 2014 (pp. 1-20). AET 2014 and contributors. Available at:

OECD – Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development. (2014). Cities and climate change. National governments enabling local action.

Papa, R. (2009). Il governo delle trasformazioni urbane e territoriali. Metodi, tecniche e strumenti. Franco Angeli, Milan, Italy. ISBN 978-88-568-1147-6

Papa, R., Battarra, R., Fistola, R. & Gargiulo, C. (1995). La città come sistema complesso in crisi strutturale, in: Bertuglia, C.S., Fuccella, R., Sartorio, G.L. (eds.), La città come sistema complesso in crisi strutturale - strumenti e tecniche per il governo metropolitano, Giuffré, Roma, 1995. ISBN 88-14-05263-8

Papa, R., Gargiulo, C., & Zucaro, F. (2016). Towards the Definition of the Urban Saving Energy Model (UrbanSEM). In Smart Energy in the Smart City, 151-175. Springer International Publishing. doi:

Papa, R., Gargiulo, C., & Zucaro, F. (2014). Climate Change and Energy Sustainability. Which Innovations in European Strategies and Plans. Tema. Journal of Land Use, Mobility and Environment, 0. doi:

Rickwood, P., Glazebrook, G., & Searle, G. (2008). Urban structure and energy—a review. Urban policy and research, 26(1), 57-81. doi:

Stead, D., & Marshall, S. (2001). The relationships between urban form and travel patterns. An international review and evaluation. European Journal of Transport and Infrastructure Research, 1(2), 113-141. Retrived from

Thinh, N. X., Arlt, G., Heber, B., Hennersdorf, J., & Lehmann, I. (2002). Evaluation of urban land-use structures with a view to sustainable development. Environmental Impact Assessment Review, 22(5), 475-492. doi:

Von Bertalanffy, L. (1969). General system theory: foundations, development, applications (Revised Edition). doi:

Williams, K., Jenks, M., & Burton, E. (2000). Achieving sustainable urban form. Taylor & Francis.

Worldwide, M. (2008). Worldwide centers of commerce index. Retrieved April, 5, 2013.

Ye, H., He, X., Song, Y., Li, X., Zhang, G., Lin, T., & Xiao, L. (2015). A sustainable urban form: The challenges of compactness from the viewpoint of energy consumption and carbon emission. Energy and Buildings, 93, 90-98. doi:

Scientific Responsible of the Project Smart Energy Master for the energy management of territory financed by PON 04A2_00120 R&C Axis II, from 2012 to 2015. She is author of more than 90 publications.


Article Metrics

Metrics Loading ...

Metrics powered by PLOS ALM


  • There are currently no refbacks.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
This site uses cookies to help deliver services. By using this site, you agree to the use of cookies.
More info.

Direttore responsabile: Rocco Papa | print ISSN 1970-9889 | on line ISSN 1970-9870 | © 2008 | Registrazione: Cancelleria del Tribunale di Napoli, n° 6, 29/01/2008 | Rivista realizzata con Open Journal System e pubblicata dal Centro di Ateneo per le Biblioteche dell'Università di Napoli Federico II.