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Conference paper, 2006

Complexity in Spatial Planning Practice and Theory

Nilsson L Kristina


Planning practice has today a situation of numerous tasks and requirements. The situation is caused of both global and local changes together with requirements of a more sustainable de-velopment and higher involvement of inhabitants. This interconnected and multi-dimensional context is not only complicated but also complex which gives a complex context to contem-porary planning. The complexity refers to unpredictable outcomes when different natural, technical and social conditions are integrated with values from various actors and stake-holders - a great number and variety of elements and interactions in the society and planning elements. Planning administrations and planners have as actors to manage and improve meth-ods to handle the growing complexity in planning practice. The paper concerns the actors’ perspectives of the complexity and how it is managed in planning practice. It is a critical and reflective scrutiny of the dichotomy; on one hand manag-ing the manifold and complexity and at the other hand limit the context to be able to manage local planning practice as in a mixed-scanning perspective. Power relations, governance and regime coalitions between the actors are studied. The relation of complexity and theories of planning and decision making is discussed in the paper. The empirical findings are collected from a case study of a northern local authority with a multi-complexity situation. The small town is located in harsh climate conditions because of an ore mine as the main industry in parallel with space technology and tourism. There is an on-going process of comprehensive planning based on the plans to move or rebuild one third of the built environment. This plan is caused by an interest from the mining company to mine iron ore under the existing town. This scenario is in turn based on the global price of the iron. The local authority spatial planning is dependent on the prognoses from the mining company of future requirement of employees in the mine together with development of space technol-ogy and regional tourism. The existing town is surrounded of natural environmental interests, national infrastructure of road, railway and airport as well as fields for nomad people’s rein-deers. The planning process is expected to improve a sustainable development and an open process for all actors and stakeholders in a deliberative way. Altogether these conditions give an extreme complex context for the spatial planning situation. The results presented are expected to give new knowledge valuable for planning practice as well as for educating planning students. The result will hopefully give a contribution to the planning theory discussion. Key data sources are found from documents and plans, available statistics, together with semi structured interviews as well as participative observations. The findings are interpreted in an abductive and retroductive perspective


Spatial planning; complexity; planners; planning practice; sustainable development

Published in


World Planning School Congress

    SLU Authors

    UKÄ Subject classification

    Economics and Business
    Social Sciences
    Environmental Sciences related to Agriculture and Land-use

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