The Quest for More Sustainability in Urban Planning

The multidimensional concept of sustainability has been integrated as a central aspect of contemporary urban planning and policies in various ways across the Nordic Countries, Europe and beyond. Although a kind of definitional consensus could have been developed in the meantime, emphasising the integration of economic, social and environmental issues in a cross-generation perspective, the concept has so far been translated into rather diverse policy packages in regards to urban planning. In this issue of Nordregio News we look at how sustainable urban planning has been approached during the past two decades.

One reason the concept has a variety of applications is, as with many other social-political constructs (such as territorial cohesion, covered in our last issue), it is challenging to measure the extent to which urban policies contribute to sustainability. This allows some room to use this positively associated concept as a label for various types of programmes, policies and projects in urban planning and beyond.

Apart from these side-effects, the concept of sustainability particularly related to urban planning, has been revitalised and reframed in recent years. An eye-catching reason for this is the discourse on climate change and other related strands, such as making cities more resource efficient, the introduction of electric vehicles for shorter trips within urban areas and planning concepts like compact urban forms and transit-oriented development. These examples claim to identify long-term reconcilable solutions to minimise or better cope with the environmental impacts of social and economic activities in cities.

As a matter of fact, so-called 'adaptation' and 'mitigation' strategies are increasingly framing debates in urban planning for 'more sustainability'. But what are the challenges for developing cities and neighbourhoods under the criteria of this 'reframed' agenda of urban sustainability? In this issue of Nordregio News sustainable urban planning is considered from several perspectives.

Dominic Stead's article Views on Sustainable Urban Planning from Europe discusses how the discourse on sustainability in relation to urban planning has permeated EU policy papers over the last twenty years or so. In doing so, he identifies some major thematic strands, specifically the quest for the most sustainable 'urban form' which has been a central issue in this respect.

In his article A Holistic Approach to Climate Change, Christian Dymén critically reviews the commonly used 'mitigation-adaptation dichotomy'. By using the illustrative planning approach in one suburb of the Swedish city of Malmö, he calls for more comprehensive notions and practices in developing sustainable neighbourhoods.

Mitchell Reardon's contribution article A Contemporary Look at Sustainable Urban Planning reflects critically on the achievements in striving for sustainability in urban planning so far. He identifies some interesting shortcomings and disconnections in the current debate and calls for more context-sensitive approaches towards sustainable urban planning.

We hope you enjoy reading this issue of Nordregio News!

Peter Schmitt

Senior Research Fellow

and the Editorial Board

Back to Nordregio News Issue 2, 2011