Academic journal article The Town Planning Review

Construction of 'Nature' in Urban Planning: A Case Study of Stockholm

Academic journal article The Town Planning Review

Construction of 'Nature' in Urban Planning: A Case Study of Stockholm

Article excerpt

In European planning, the reaction to urban sprawl has been a trend towards concentration, which raises questions concerning the role of green space in the city. The aim of this paper is to analyse how the urban and nature are constructed in urban planning. The paper includes analysis of the comprehensive plan for Stockholm. The analysis shows that the concept of urban nature simultaneously represents something desirable and problematic. This tension is concealed in the comprehensive plan, making it function as a catalyst for change of planning direction towards increased urban density.

In European urban planning the reaction to urban sprawl has been a trend towards concentration and an emphasis on the 'compact city'. The goal is to achieve sustainability and the promotion of urban qualities such as high density, diversity and vitality (see, for example, Williams, 1999; Salingaros, 2006). This trend raises questions concerning the role and function of green space in the city and the negotiation of nature in urban areas. Urbanisation reshapes the landscape and 'produces new kinds of nature' (Asikainen and Jokinen, 2009, 351), implying that nature is an inevitable part of planning and design. As a result, analysis of the construction of nature in urban planning evinces the intricacies of the inter-relationship between humans and their environment (Bunce and Desfor, 2007, 253).

The urban is often depicted as the antithesis of the natural, implying a distinction between nature and culture. As many scholars have convincingly argued, the idea of nature and culture as separate entities is flawed, and nature is better understood as 'socio-environmental arrangements' (Swyngedouw, 2007, 20), or 'seeming nature' (Gandy, 2002, 110). In the modern understanding of a strict division between culture and nature as separate categories, Bruno Latour (1993) claims that 'we have never been modern', since our world is and always has been full of hybrids: socio-natural objects and subjects. The meaning of nature is continuously negotiated in relation to its supposed counterpart - human culture and society. Negotiating nature and culture, drawing boundaries between the two, defines and justifies certain ways of action and assigns responsibility. Humans do something to the world when they draw boundaries between nature and culture, between the natural and the non-natural and between acceptable and unacceptable human interference in natural systems. Any understanding of nature involves an understanding of society and certain social choices.

This paper analyses how the urban and nature are constructed in urban planning. How is 'urban nature' conceived and what functions and values are attached to it? What are the arguments for preservation of green space in urban areas? What negotiations between sometimes contradictory social, cultural and environmental values take place in the planning process? The analysis presented here concerns physical planning in Stockholm as elaborated in the comprehensive plan. In this plan the municipality presents the main outlines of projected future land use. In late 2008, a new comprehensive plan for Stockholm was proposed. Eventually, after minor revisions, local politicians adopted the new comprehensive plan in 2010.

This paper discusses urban nature as a concept imbued with various meanings, illustrated by a series of articles in a leading morning paper in Sweden. These articles concern the presentation of the proposal for a new comprehensive plan for Stockholm in 2008. This part of the paper is not meant to present a detailed analysis of the debate during the consultation process, but to illustrate the variety of opinions that the issue of urban nature involves. The paper also includes a narrative analysis of Stockholm's comprehensive plan. This plan's view of the future development, land use and role of urban nature in Stockholm implies a shift from a previous emphasis on coherent green areas to an emphasis on a coherent city. …

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