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Planning in Scandinavia

Unlike the case of the Netherlands, planning in Scandinavia has been less a national matter and more a matter for the municipality and the region. One reason for this tendency is that local governments have been stronger relative to the national government than is the case in many other European nations.

In Sweden a very high level of municipal and regional control over the pattern of development has been achieved in two ways that render Swedish planning practice very different from American practice. First, municipal governments often own a sizable percentage of the land within their own borders. In fact, the central government encouraged municipal governments to own (land-bank) a 10-year reserve of developable land. Legislation permitted municipal governments to take privately owned land for purposes of land banking.23 Doing this would be the equivalent of a U.S. municipal government condemning private property not for a specific public use but simply to hold it for unspecified purposes at an unspecified time. It is doubtful that any U.S. court would sustain this action or that many municipal legislatures would appropriate funds for it.

The cities in the ring form the Randstad Holland described in the text

FIGURE 18-1 The cities in the ring form the Randstad Holland described in the text. The diameter of the Randstad, about 50 miles, is similar to that of the London or New York metropolitan area. About 70 miles north of the Randstad is a huge dike behind which are polders (shaded areas), flat low-lying agricultural lands reclaimed from the North Sea.

Public ownership of land gives government a very strong grip on the process of development. It controls the timing of development through the release of land for sale or lease. It also provides total control over the way in which the land is developed because the developer of the land is bound by whatever contracts are part of the sale or lease agreement.

Vallingsby, a new town located in the Stockholm metropolitan area. The town is laid out around a stop on the city's metro, providing its residents easy access to employment in the city's central business district. Above is a pedestrian-oriented shopping area proximate to the metro station. Below, a short walk from the station, is a residential area fronting on a combined pedestrian and bicycle path. Automobile access is on the other side of the buildings.

Skarpnack, another new town in the Stockholm metropolitan area, located about 20 minutes from downtown Stockholm via the metro. Essentially an in-town bedroom community, it is oriented toward families with children. A system of interior paths connects groups of apartments located around courtyards. Parking is located in a multilevel structure several blocks away from where the pictures were taken. Most housing is low-rise multi-family. As in Vallingsby, there are no single-family houses.

The second way in which Swedish municipal governments achieved tight control over the pattern of development was through a very extensive role in the production of housing. For many years of the post-World War II period, housing was essentially a nationalized industry in Sweden. The national government provided the financing, and local governments directed the what and the where of residential construction. Although most construction was done by private firms, the firms were, in effect, acting as contractors to local governments.

The government adopted a strong social housing policy for the whole population and believed that people had the right to a good home regardless of income. In contrast to most other developed countries the Swedish government sought to control the whole housing stock and not just that for low income earners. A massive programme of suburban high rise took place called the Million Homes Programme and large numbers of existing town centers were also redeveloped. An organisational structure was set up to deal with the huge programme. This resulted in wide-ranging controls on residential development which extended far beyond the traditional planning system. The production of housing was steered by the public sector with the aim of removing speculation from land and housing. Central government was responsible for regulation and the supply of resources while municipalities ensured that the building took place.24

This approach was very much in accordance with Swedish political ideology in the postwar period. Sometimes this has been referred to as the "social democratic" model and sometimes as a "third way," one that is more socialistic than the capitalist model and more capitalistic than the socialist model.

As noted elsewhere in this book, housing is the largest single land use in most cities. In some cities it is a larger use than all other uses combined. Thus government's tight control over almost the entire housing market easily translates into great influence on the entire pattern of development.

In and around the capital city of Stockholm, the basic plan, which has been carried through and is widely admired, was to deal with growth pressures and the spreading of the city by concentrating further growth in planned communities centered around stops on an underground railroad system. Development was to be concentrated and new towns separated by green areas to be used for recreation and summer housing. In recent years the scheme has been extended somewhat with smaller developments linked by road rather than by rail. But the basic scheme of tight development surrounded by greenbelt has held. The resemblance to Ebenezer Howard's vision is strong. Since the 1980s the Swedish planning system has become a little more freeform for many of the same reasons noted in connection with Great Britain and France. Dissatisfaction with some aspects of the welfare state has caused some rightward movement along the political spectrum.

Slowing economic growth has caused fiscal pressures. In short, there has been some turn toward property-led development. As noted before, where government courts private investment, there must necessarily be negotiation and compromise.

Many elements of the approach just described can be found elsewhere in Scandinavia. For example, in Helsinki, the capital city of and by far the largest city in Finland, planners have exercised a fairly tight control over the pattern of development through the mechanism of public land ownership. As of the mid-1990s, about half the land in the city was owned by the city.

Perhaps the best-known Finnish planning accomplishment is the new satellite town of Tapiola, located a few miles outside Helsinki and linked to the city by a frequent, high-speed bus service. The town has a linear commercial core with housing and open space on each side. There is some single-family housing but a predominance of multi-family housing. This arrangement permits a moderately high population density to coexist with a considerable amount of open space within the town. The entire town is automobile accessible, but it is also very pedestrian and bicycle friendly. Distances from residences to the commercial core are short, and there are numerous pedestrian and bicycle paths. The resident of Tapiola can reach downtown Helsinki in half an hour or so by bus, and then at the end of the business day can return to an environment that offers real closeness to the natural world.

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