Socially sustainable urban planning and development - A knowledge overview

The social dimension of sustainable development is placed high on the agenda on both at a local, regional and national planning level. At the same time, there is a lack of clarity in what the concept of social sustainability means in practice in for example urban and transport planning processes. Therefore there is a great need and potential for cooperation. 
By developing a common knowledge basis, concepts and approaches, and by testing and evaluating methods and procedures there is an opportunity to narrow down and follow up the work on social sustainability in a more structured way. This may in turn lead to substantiated and well-thought through decisions that favour justice and inclusive municipalities and regions.

”Knowledge and tools for social sustainability”

The project builds on results from the Divides City project where one of the conclusion is there is a need for more knowledge and tools in order to ensure that community planning at the local and regional level really leads to reduced spatial inequalities. The knowledge among officials and politicians need to be strengthened, both in terms of understanding the importance of how we plan and build, but also to improve the communication with other stakeholders such as the business sector, the civil society, citizens and authorities. 

The project also builds on KAIROS (Knowledge about and Approaches to Fair and Socially Sustainable Cities). The conclusions of the KAIROS project are formulated in different "synvändor" (change of mindset – to think and act differently). Based on broad co-creation, KAIROS aims to inspire politicians, officials, private actors, associations, researchers and citizens to work for the for the societal change that is needed for a fair and socially sustainable development. 

Knowledge overview – first step 

The results from the Divided City and KAIROS project will feed into the writing of a knowledge overview on the subject. The overview will be a first step and the aim is to build on that and set up a full-scale project. It will be produced together with municipalities, local authorities/sub-regions and regions, authorities and research actors, with the aim to identify what we know at present and estimate what the continued work with achieving social sustainability through transport planning, urban planning might look like.

The knowledge overview will map the state of art and experiences, methods and tools within the urban and transport planning field, nationally in Sweden and internationally, though a literature overview and interviews with different stakeholders. 

The knowledge overview will seek answers to following questions:

1.    What does social sustainability in urban and transport planning and other planning processes mean, at local, regional and national level? What aspects and definitions are there?
2.    In what way are these aspects integrated in planning and development processes, such as urban and regional planning, transport planning, planning of houses etc.? What methods,        analysis and policies are being used and how? What indicators are being applied in these processes and what consequences do different methods, analysis and policies have?
3.    What are further needs of knowledge within academia and practice? Is there a need for new methods or ways of collaboration?

The knowledge overview is expected to be completed in autumn 2017.


This knowledge overview on social sustainability from an urban planning perspective has been developed as a result of a Mistra Urban Futues project. The project gathered a large number of actors from research and practice, from local and regional level, as well as from both small and large municipalities. All actors had a common desire to create a greater understanding of what social sustainability might mean in relation to urban planning. The ambition is that the resulting report will help researchers to gain a better understanding of the practical challenges and needs regarding social sustainability. Also, that practitioners get a wider theoretical reference framework that they can use as a basis for their work. In the report it is concluded that social sustainability in urban planning has different meanings in different contexts. A number of approaches on social sustainability in relation to urban planning are presented, to provide guidance and urge for reflection. The report also illustrates how social planning can contribute to (and hinder) social sustainability in different ways. It is emphasized that social sustainability is not a static state that can be achieved once and for all, but rather an ongoing process in which urban planning can play an important role. The report also provides a number of interesting examples of how actors within the framework of Swedish urban planning can address issues of social sustainability. Finally, a number of identified knowledge gaps are highlighted, as guidance for continued development work and research initiatives.
Type: Report/Paper/Working paper/Brief

Project members

  • Lisa Ström

    Lisa Ström works at the Göteborg Region Association of Local Authorities. 

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  • Stefan Molnar

    Stefan Molnar, PhD candidate, RISE Research Institute of Sweden & Chalmers University of Technology

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  • Sanna Isemo

    Sanna Isemo is a platform coordinator at the Gothenburg Local Interaction Platform (GOLIP).


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