Following decades of both planned and market‐driven decentralization of cities and city‐regions, urban policy makers are now extolling the virtues of the compact city. The model which is held up as a good example is that of the traditional European city which is relatively dense and fine‐grained. The model that is no longer considered sustainable (economically and socially as well as environmentally) is the sprawl, strip or edge city, more often than not planned around the automobile. One question is the extent to which this European model of the good city transfers to the UK context. The author would argue that a number of engrained attitudes to city planning (and indeed city life) persist which together might undermine attempts to stimulate more active and culturally confident cities. Nevertheless, if we are to have more active and better cities, we need to know how best to manage, develop and design them. This paper argues that the city is a phenomenon of structured complexity. Good cities tend to be a balance of a reasonably ordered and legible city form, and places of many and varied comings and goings, meetings and transactions. What might appear to some as disorder is very often simply the everyday rhythm of city life. In the absence of such activity, cities can lose their urbanity and eventually become suburban in character. The large part of this paper contains an exposition of the principles of good city form, activity, street life and urban culture. That is to say, urbanity itself. By reference to a number of cities, the intention is to show that it is perfectly possible to plan for and design the active city.