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Creating tools for socially sustainable urban planning

Do green spaces always make for happier people? Does it make any difference if renovations are carried out by residents of the area? Do security doors make people feel safe? Although many people are interested in social sustainability issues, knowledge about how it can be achieved is less prevalent. RISE has collaborated with a number of stakeholders to develop a knowledge overview and practical tools.

When it comes to environmental and sustainability issues, legislation and regulation contain well-developed standards that everyone can follow. When it comes to socially sustainable urban planning however, there is currently no national consensus. In many parts of the country there is even a lack of agreement at regional level.

“Work is carried out very differently based on local conditions. For example, Gothenburg has Älvstranden, a municipally-owned company tasked with developing land along the banks of the Göta River, including some 25,000 new apartments in the city.  With their size, they have the personnel and resources to work intensively on creating their own value map as a tool for gaining an overview of sustainability efforts. They can then use this throughout the organisation and provide feedback to politicians who, in turn, can offer their views,” says Karl de Fine Licht, researcher and project manager at RISE.

“If you then consider [neighbouring municipality] Mölndal, their municipal development company, Mölndala, is nowhere near as large and yet they find other ways to address these issues.”

Creating support for initiatives

Today, there are many lofty ambitions regarding the promotion of social sustainability at an early stage of planning processes. The difficult has arisen in maintaining this energy when the time comes to press costs at subsequent stages of the project.

“Today, these types of issues are given due consideration and they are prioritised – at least at the planning stage. However, it is then a matter of maintaining this all the way to the finish line. This is where we can be of assistance; isolating pitfalls and creating support for initiatives,” says Karl de Fine Licht.

Support is already at hand; RISE has been involved in developing handy tools for developers. These can be used early in the process of renovation and to reduce the impact during the construction period itself. Tools include questionnaires to increase awareness of the possible consequences of a choice further along the chain. A comprehensive knowledge overview has also been produced, with examples from Sweden and the rest of the world. For example, this takes up the case of Örebro’s municipal housing company, which made it a requirement for tendering for a renovation contract that the local long-term unemployed should be offered work experience on the project. Or how Stockholm County Council chose to include social effects in their analysis prior to proposed major public transport investment.

Knowledge around social aspects

Gathering knowledge is important. It is easy to think that all investments provide objective desired results. Today, we often see demands for an open cityscape that encourages street life and social encounters; however, while this may increase the perceived happiness of the area, crime also increases the more people come together. Similarly, an investment in installing security doors and shielded stairwells increases fear among residents – who experience the feeling that there must be something outside from which they must be protected.

“Another example is green spaces. Everyone wants green spaces but few people realise that a poorly maintained green area is worse than, for example, a car park. There is a fine line here, but unless green spaces are well-maintained and kept tidy, they make people more insecure than an ordinary urban space,” says Karl de Fine Licht.

“This also shows how important it is to take a holistic view. If someone decides that we are going to have a new park here, then it is important that the necessary resources are set aside by the local parks department to take care of it.”


Process tools

The process tools and support developed include a battery of questions that allow people from various professions and with varying areas of responsibility to easily discuss social sustainability issues in a more structured manner and offers a natural place to research.