Green growth and spatial planning in the Nordic city regions

Nordic cooperation on green growth is important if we are to improve common infrastructure for coping with shared economic and climate challenges, and we are to move research and innovation forward in order to create a more environmentally friendly Nordic region.

This working paper has been compiled by a team of Nordregio researchers and aims to provide planners, relevant stakeholders and policy-makers with a useful reference document on the potential interactions between spatial planning and green growth in Nordic city regions. More specifically, the intention of this study is to reveal and provide a better understanding of the key concepts inherent to the spatial planning of green growth in a city regional context from a Nordic perspective.

Green growth has been developed as a policy response to the economic crisis, energy challenges and climate change and it can be found in political discourses all around the world. The concept highlights the growth opportunities offered by a greener economy as a way to mobilise green investments in the hope that they pave the way for economic and environmental recovery, stimulating the green growth required by the economy and society. It offers a strategic approach to the promotion of economic growth by adding an environmental quality to existing economic processes, while creating new jobs with lower emissions.

The necessity of a transition toward green growth has been acknowledged as key to unlocking sustainable development. It involves, at all levels of government, developing green public policy tools that stimulate investment in businesses and innovations with a reduced environmental impact. The Nordic Council of Ministers sees the role of the concept as that of a guiding vision for the collective utilisation of Nordic strengths in various areas including energy, waste treatment, housing, education, research, green technology and green investments in the public and private sectors.

There is, however, still a lack of a common understanding regarding what green growth means and how it differs from concepts such as green economy and sustainable development.

At the same time, it is important to acknowledge the sustainability concerns associated with rapidly increasing urbanisation around the world. Cities are the key locations of future economic growth and social well-being. They are also the main engines of rapidly globalising production and consumption systems, which entails significant environmental impacts occurring on local and global scales simultaneously. Consequently, it is important to the broader goal of sustainable development that green growth addresses the questions of how and to what extent it can contribute to sustainable urban development.

This need also implies a requirement to understand the scale on which spatial planning can contribute to the policy goals of green growth in an urban context. The city-regional level is increasingly pronounced as an appropriate level at which to develop and implement policies. This is due to the important impacts that urban spatial structure (urban form) has on urban sustainability.

This working paper addresses these issues by identifying the conceptual, political, spatial, economic and societal aspects that can be taken into consideration when designing planning and policy strategies for green growth in cities. It also reviews selected Nordic urban development plans and green growth-related strategies in order to understand how the possible connections are made between green growth and spatial planning and what green growth means in a Nordic urban context.