National Support Initiatives in Nordic Spatial Planning


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The Nordic countries share many cross-sectoral targets at the national level to meet ambitious environmental, social, sustainable and innovative development goals and standards. When it comes to spatial planning, central governments in the Nordic countries often have limited power to influence local-level priorities, particularly with respect to regulating land use and adopting a range of policies that impact sustainable urban development. In parallel, various new planning approaches, as well as a range of nationwide support mechanisms have emerged in the Nordic countries, often with the aim of supporting and steering municipalities’ efforts to achieve sustainable urban development. Our report aims to better understand such initiatives and how they are connected to spatial planning efforts in Nordic municipalities by examining one national support initiative in each Nordic country, illustrated with learnings from municipal case studies. We examined FutureBuilt in Norway, the Partnership for Vibrant City Centres in Denmark, the Borgarlína project in Iceland, the Sustainable City programme in Finland and Visions: in the North in Sweden.As shown by the findings from our case studies, different perspectives on external governance – such as state intervention versus municipal self-governance in Nordic countries – highlight challenges in influencing local urban development due to limited state mandates. National support initiatives emerge as an alternative means to guide local development. They may serve to foster collaboration and inclusivity, particularly when inspiring local, strategic spatial planning, as seen in the Swedish case study. National support initiatives are viewed as complementary tools to spatial planning that support sustainable urban development processes and projects. Though they take various forms, their purpose and impact should be understood within the overall context. Collaboration and lessons learned from national support initiatives have the potential to enhance legislation or state intervention. However, an imbalance in municipalities’ access to support poses a challenge in each Nordic country. It is therefore crucial to assess the appropriateness and purpose of support, recognising that municipal pathways are influenced by the way in which support is designed. Striking a balance with respect to state-municipal governance is essential. In short, we can draw the following recommendations:A partnership-based approach with collaboration between various stakeholders enhances inclusivity. New ways of working that are agile and flexible and focus on the local context should be emphasised for effective outcomes.The importance of long-term commitments and policy coherence in the field of sustainable urban development should be emphasised at both national and municipal levels. Efforts should be made to ensure continuity in sustainable urban development initiatives beyond the duration of the given programme.A more formal and institutionalised way of obtaining government funding for sustainable urban development projects at the local level should be developed in some countries. That could level the playing field for municipalities with varying resources, knowledge and lobbying capabilities. In other countries, capacity building – including training and resources – can be provided to help municipalities navigate support options and apply for them. It is beneficial to create platforms providing information about support for sustainable urban development and to make municipalities aware of upcoming calls well in advance.
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