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Översiktsartikel2021Vetenskapligt granskadÖppen tillgång

Systematic review and comparison of densification effects and planning motivations

Pont, Meta Berghauser; Haupt, Per; Berg, Per; Alstade, Victoria; Heyman, Axel


Do higher urban densities contribute to more sustainable cities and communities? This paper examines the effectiveness of higher density (as a means) for achieving sustainable urban development (the goal) following three lines of enquiry. First, a systematic review of the scientific literature (n = 229 peer-reviewed empirical studies) is presented on the effects of urban density. Second, the motivations for increasing urban density are studied in a systematic review of Swedish planning practices based on the comprehensive urban plans in 59 municipalities. Third, these two studies are compared to find matches and mismatches between evidence and practice. Although positive effects exist for public infrastructure, transport and economics, there are also considerable negative environmental, social and health impacts. This creates a challenging task for urban planners to assess the trade-offs involving densification and accommodate current urbanisation rates. Some topics are found to be over-represented in research (transport effects), seldom discussed in practice (environmental impact), and misaligned when comparing motives and evidence (social impact). Furthermore, for some topics, urban density thresholds are found that are important because they may explain some of the divergences in the results between studies. PRACTICE RELEVANCE The transfer of knowledge from research to planning practice is a serious concern as planning strategies are not aligned with scientific evidence. Planning practice in Sweden is more positive about the contribution of higher density to sustainable urban development than the results of empirical studies warrant. The largest deviation is found in relation to the social impacts of higher density where the planning arguments are not aligned with the evidence. Several reported negative effects of densification (e.g. water management, recreational infrastructure, biodiversity) are not sufficiently accounted for in Sweden’s planning policy and strategy. The narrow planning focus on decarbonising cities and densification needs to be broadened to ensure cities are resilient against the effects of climate change and include mitigation strategies to reduce negative social, environmental and health impacts. The findings can be used to develop evidence-based planning strategies. Other countries can apply this process to assess their planning strategies.


cities; densification; planners; sustainable urban development; systematic review; urban density; urban planning; Sweden

Publicerad i

Buildings and Cities
2021, Volym: 2, nummer: 1, sidor: 378-401
Utgivare: Web Portal Ubiquity Press

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