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Tensions in Nordic urban planning

The seemingly contradictory processes of urbanisation and the notions of austerity and post-politics are clearly visible and materialised in current changes and developments in the Nordic planning systems and practices. In this issue of Nordregio News, some of the tensions created by this are explored by focusing on recent reforms, initiatives and developments in the Nordic planning systems. The issue focuses specifically on the tensions between a more market-oriented planning and the Nordic tradition of employing open and democratic planning processes. This strained relationship can be understood through academic terms such as legitimacy vs effectiveness, or governance vs empowerment, as well as in more everyday language such as business management vs public participation. The aim is to stimulate debate on urban policy and politics around some of the key planning questions such as where are these initiatives and experimentation leading, is it a desirable direction, and for whom?

In the first article of this issue, Changes and inherent tensions in the Nordic planning systems, Lukas Smas and Christian Fredricsson from Nordregio provide a brief overview of recent changes in Nordic urban planning systems with a focus on the tensions between market orientation and public participation. They raise issues concerning policy challenges in relation to municipalities’ planning practice, as well as political challenges on a more general level in relation to how planning systems are designed and developed with regard to, for example, strategic and comprehensive planning.

The relation between municipal comprehensive planning and regional development policies is the topic of the second article, Bridging the gap between strategic and comprehensive planning by Daniel André and Kajetonas Čeginskas from Boverket (the Swedish National Board of Housing, Building and Planning). They present lessons from a national programme for improving co-operation between physical (spatial) planning and regional growth activities initiated jointly by Boverket and Tillväxtverket (the Swedish Agency for Economic and Regional Growth). The article highlights a number of pilot projects that have developed different forms of multilevel governance with the aim of improving co-operation between physical planning and regional growth activities.

The third article, Revising Finnish planning legislation: more agonism? is by Raine Mäntysalo from the Centre for Urban and Regional Studies at Aalto University, Finland, and reflects on the tensions in planning procedures and practice within the Finnish Land Use and Building Act. More specifically, it raises the inherent contradictions between public participation and landowner rights in planning processes and argues that the Act potentially needs to be re-examined with regard to its relationship with democracy.

All three contributions highlight in different ways the tensions between economic growth and social inclusion in contemporary neo-liberal urbanism. However, there is also an additional dimension here that has not been adequately addressed, namely, the Earth’s life support system and sustainability in the Anthropocene: how can economic growth be used to create a “good city” with our planetary boundaries?

We hope you enjoy this issue of Nordregio News!

Lukas Smas

Senior Research Fellow


and the Editorial Board

Back to Nordregio News Issue 2 2015