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Research article2021Peer reviewedOpen access

Participatory comprehensive planning to handle competing land-use priorities in the sparsely populated rural context

Zachrisson, Anna; Bjärstig, Therese; Thellbro, Camilla; Neumann, Wiebke; Svensson, Johan


Rural areas supply the planet's natural resources while simultaneously harbor refuges for most of the world's remaining biodiversity and intact, resilient ecosystems. Since traditional extractive activities must increasingly co-exist with non-exploitative activities such as tourism and conservation, sustainable land use planning is essential for managing trade-offs between incompatible interests in rural areas. With "communicative planning" being promoted since decades, participation is considered crucial for reconciling different planning interests. However, the implementation of participation remains patchy and uneven, not least in sparsely populated regions with low capacity where participation could be a game-changer. Here, we consider municipal comprehensive planning as an existing arena to explore participatory planning approaches potentially capable of simultaneously managing competing land uses and promoting sustainable development in sparsely populated rural contexts. Collaborative work between researchers and public managers resulted in the co-development of an approach based on qualitative village- and interest-based focus groups that facilitated the formulation, negotiation, and legitimization of concrete and detailed local guidelines that prioritize between different land uses. Consequently, the resulting comprehensive plan draft was more readily adopted than the output of a traditional planning process. We found that citizens in sparsely populated municipalities seem willing to actively contribute to rural development processes if they have significant influence.


rural planning; sparsely populated areas; land use conflicts; tourism; reindeer husbandry; snowmobiling

Published in

Journal of Rural Studies
2021, Volume: 88, pages: 1-13