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Second Symposium on Social-Ecological Urbanism: Balancing Dense and Green Urban Development

​Chalmers University of Technology, SMoG, Architecture and Civil Engineering: The focus of the Second Seminar on Social-Ecological Urbanism will be the balancing act we have to start performing. The answer to the problems with smart growth should not be less density, but instead, different densities that embrace the advantages, and counteract the disadvantages. Urban greening is clearly part of the new equation. During the first half of the day, we will shed light on these contradictions to, during the second half-day, focus on new ways of thinking, balancing between dense and green.
We will do so at three levels: first, at a conceptual level, we need new concepts and new images that can help to start working on the balancing act; second, at a methodological level, we need more advanced and consistent spatial analysis, based in a systems understanding of urban processes including both social and ecological processes; third, at a practical level, we need best practices that inspire how this can be actualized beyond concepts and theory. 

In between these two blocks, we welcome the key note speaker of the seminar, Marina Alberti, who is the world leading scholar in the field of Social-Ecological Urbanism and has written numerous books about cities as hybrid ecosystems. Her research focuses on the interactions between urban development patterns and ecosystem function, urban eco-evolutionary dynamics, and the properties of urbanizing regions that enhance their resilience and socio-ecological innovation.

Register by sending an email to Meta Berghauser Pont (​)


9:30 The Density Paradigm: Meta Berghauser Pont (Chalmers, Sweden) 
Environmental contradictions of Smart Growth: Åsa Gren (Beijer Institute of Ecological Economics, Sweden)

10:30 The health effects of dense cities and the role of urban greening: Mare Löhmus (Karolinska Institutet, Sweden)
Experiencing the urban environment and the role of density and urban greening: Karl Samuelsson (Gävle University, Sweden) 
Green accessibility or green connectivity: Meta Berghauser Pont (Chalmers, Sweden) 
12:00 LUNCH
13:00 KEYNOTE Urbanism from an eco-evolutionary perspective: MARINA ALBERTI (University of Washington, director Urban Ecology Research Laboratory, USA)
14:00 COFFEE
14:30 Towards a social-ecological spatial morphology: Lars Marcus (Chalmers, Sweden)
Urban form and green spaces: towards integrated analytical models: Giovanni Fusco (Université Côte-Azur, CNRS, ESPACE, Nice, France). 
Social-Ecological Reciprocities in the Northwestern European context: Arjan van Timmeren (TU Delft, Director AMS Institute, the Netherlands). 

16:00 PANEL DISCUSSION Social-Ecological Urbanism for Human wellbeing and Scale-crossing Resilience Building: moderator Stephan Barthel (Stockholm Resilience Centre, Gävle University, Sweden)


The concept Social-Ecological Urbanism was launched by the publication of the book Principles for Social-Ecological Urbanism in 2013 by Barthel et al. They integrated two lines of thinking of the city as an ecosystem and developed a new theory of cities that can help to reformulate the sustainable urban development paradigm that has been dominated by Smart Growth or similar concepts during the last decades. Social-Ecological Urbanism deals not only with designs for mitigation of especially carbon emissions, dominant in the Smart Growth paradigm and resulting in high density solutions, but also with adaptation measures to enhance adaptive capacities in cities. Social-Ecological Urbanism looks for synergies between ecological and sociospatial systems, acknowledges the existence of conflicts between them and uses the systems’ capacity to absorb shocks, utilize them, reorganize and continue to develop without losing fundamental functions, i.e. builds resilience in the system. 

The authors of the book Principles for Social-Ecological Urbanism, have continued working on the theme at different institutions and the group has grown bigger and is today located at various institutions in Sweden. The core groups in Sweden can be found at the University of Gävle, KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, The Beijer Institute of Ecological Economic and Stockholm Resilience Centre and Chalmers University of Technology in Gothenburg. Leaders of the various groups focusing on Social-Ecological Urbanism at these institutions are architects, urban planners and ecologists and have over the years developed a strong network of collaboration.

In Gothenburg, the Spatial Morphology Group (SMoG), led by Lars Marcus and Meta Berghauser Pont has developed methods to study the social-ecological performance of cities including integrated GIS-based models and a joint description of social-ecological morphology, integrating the central morphological components in landscape ecology (patches, corridors and matrix) and urban morphology (streets, plots and buildings). 

A first Seminar on Social-Ecological Urbanism was organized November 2016 at the University of Gävle where the width of the concept was discussed (see attached report of that seminar). Chalmers will in February 2019 organise the second Seminar on Social-Ecological Urbanism where the focus will be on the paradigm-shift needed when it comes to sustainable urban development where especially models such as Compact Cities, Smart Growth and TOD will be challenged and proposals will be made to develop new models that embrace the thinking in Social-Ecological Urbanism to its full extend. Density is a key concept here; it is not only the central research variable in many studies on sustainable urban development, it is also one of the main guiding principles for sustainable urban development according to UN Habitat (2014). 

Compact City Paradigm 

As a response to ineffective and unsustainable patterns of urban growth (sprawl) concepts revolving around compaction have emerged, such as compact cities and smart growth. These umbrella concepts represent the most prevalent planning strategies to develop cities that are more sustainable, advocating and embracing compact, transit-oriented, walkable, bicycle-friendly land use that include mixed-use development with a range of housing choices.

Despite the ongoing debate on the pros and cons of densification in academia as well as in the public debate, it is today widely adopted by planners and policy makers as a sustainable land use form (Buys & Miller 2012). For example, it is frequently endorsed in European national and local policy and discussion documents (Howley 2010) such as the publication ´Rätt Tätt´ (Boverket 2016) by the Swedish National Board of Housing, Building and Planning and Swedish comprehensive planning documents (Legeby 2015). Also, the UN-supported Millennium Ecosystem Assessment and the UN-Habitat planning principles argue for densification as a sustainable strategy (MA 2005; UN Habitat 2014). At the same time, scholars also warn about too dense townscapes (loss of views and daylight, dark and small inner courtyards, strains on privacy and a challenged personal integrity in apartments, offices and in shrinking outdoor space). A call for Qualified Density (Gaffron et al. 2005) or Functional Density (Berg et al. 2012; 2017) reflect the dual need to balance reasonable density and reasonable spaciousness.

A review paper by four researchers of the Swedish group working with Social-Ecological Urbanism (Gren et al. 2018), including the organizer of this seminar, has shown that smart growth strategies where high density is the key ingredient, lack sufficient scientific foundations and that few if any of the current ‘truths’ about compaction and environmental gains can be substantiated (ibid). This is worrying because each week, humanity is building the equivalent of two cities the size of Vancouver and by 2030 more housing units will be built on Earth than currently exist in all of Europe (Ash et al. 2008; McDonald 2008). On a national level, Sweden is in the middle of an exceptional attempt to build 700.000 housing units until 2025, which creates a potential to redirect the development of Swedish cities into more sustainable trajectories. 

Financed by C-ARC, Architecture and Civil Engineering, Chalmers, Sweden
More information: Meta Berghauser Pont (
Category Conference
Location: Chalmers Conference Centre, Chalmersplatsen 1, Scaniasalen
Starts: 18 June, 2019, 09:00
Ends: 18 June, 2019, 16:00

Published: Fri 08 Mar 2019. Modified: Mon 06 May 2019