Can planning combat segregation and strengthen social sustainability?

Within Nordic cities, residential segregation is high on the agenda and a hotly debated topic, often discussed alongside concerns relating to socioeconomic inequality, welfare provision, immigration, and integration. Social sustainability is another recurrent ‘buzzword’, but what does it actually mean and imply in practice? This policy brief presents Nordic perspectives on segregated cities and planning for social sustainability.

Urban segregation refers, most commonly, to the separation of social groups at the residential level of an urban area. The term can also be used to indicate social separation in workplaces, public spaces, schools or service provision. Most often, segregation is assumed to be problematic (and understood as a symptom of wider injustices), and the study of segregation often focuses on the challenges experienced by those living in concentrated poverty, violence, and/or poor quality housing. Segregation also presents a challenge to Nordic values of egalitarianism and justice, challenging planners with a complex issue of how to navigate the different needs and desires of an increasingly diverse and dynamic population. To ignore segregation is to ignore a critical indicator and a driver of social exclusion. Understanding why segregation occurs and how to respond to it is critical for the future of Nordic cities, where changing demographics and rising socioeconomic inequality pose new challenges.