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Social sustainability in the building process

Budget, environment, form and function – many aspects must be considered during construction. The paradox is that those we build for, humans and their needs, can quickly become obscured. Lisa Andersson and Stefan Molnar and their colleagues at RISE want to change that.

Although the role of humans in urban development has always been central, it is surprisingly often forgotten or under-prioritised in modern city building. Figures and financial values all too often dictate development.

“When we start to talk about social sustainability, dealing with people’s lives and well-being, it’s easy to not take the issues seriously as they are seen as a bit ‘fuzzy’,” says Stefan Molnar, doctoral researcher at RISE.

A city with good living conditions

In the urban development group at RISE but also in other areas of the research institute, many diverse projects are underway with the overarching aim of developing and creating cities that promote good living conditions not only for current inhabitants but also for future inhabitants, which can simply be termed social sustainability.

For example, various tools have been developed to convert the ‘fuzzy’ issues into facts and figures.

“We have, for example, developed a tool called Renobuild that can analyse the environmental impacts and social and economic effects of different renewal alternatives,” says Stefan Molner.

Look beyond short-term objectives

Prisma, another tool, was created to increase focus on social sustainability throughout the urban construction process. To retain all the thoughts and ideas that exist in a project initially is, of course, challenging, not least because persons involved in the project are replaced as the building progresses.

“Those people who arrive later in a construction project tend to focus more on the physical and specific, such as more detailed constructions,” says Stefan Molnar.

Another challenge is to get all players to raise their sights and look beyond short-term financial analyses and instead prioritise other goals that contribute to long-term social development.

“It can, for instance, be worthwhile for a municipality to invest more in green areas. In the short term this means lower revenue from land sales, but the potential long term returns can include better health, for example,” says Stefan Molnar.

Accessibility for all

Another aspect of work with social sustainability is designing cities and residential areas that are accessible for all.

“They should work for people from many different backgrounds. For example, physical disability or age should not play a role. But a norm often exists that directs how we develop our cities, where we unthinkingly develop them for certain groups and forget the others,” says Stefan Molnar.

From having been in the shadows, questions of social sustainability have in recent years received greater attention and been attributed greater importance.

“Today, there’s an increased expectation that both public and private sectors should consider and respond to social aspects as we believe there’s a shared responsibility for the issues,” says Lisa Andersson, project manager at RISE.

What long-term benefits are gained by incorporating social sustainability into urban development? The answer is many benefits. 

“An enormous amount; working from these perspectives means we actively respond to social sustainability challenges and thereby contribute to more equal cities with thriving populations,” says Lisa Andersson. 

“These are things everyone is aware of and talks about - various aspects of improved health, both physical and mental, increased security and less crime, better prospects to grow as a person and pursue life goals,” says Stefan Molnar.