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Report: Neighbourhoods of tomorrow – Mastering densification and climate resilience

A new report by Sweco ‘Neighbourhoods of Tomorrow’ looks to climate actions that should be taken in order to create a story of success as we look back from 2050 to today.

Mastering densification and climate resilience

How will our ‘neighbourhoods of tomorrow’ face increased heat, drought, downpours and flooding? How can we plan for denser yet more resilient future neighbourhoods?

Changing times, changing cities

As our times change so do our cities. What will our cities and neighbourhood look like in 2050? These key megatrends influencing the future of our cities (based on Greg Clark source/ UN Habitat 2016) give us some indication as to the shape of things to come.

5 megatrends

Shaping cities around the world

Densification and green spaces

To accommodate future growth and to build sustainable cities, many governments have adopted a planning strategy of densifying existing urban areas. Densification often occurs near jobs and services, in former industrial areas, and next to existing or new public transport with significant spare capacity.

Urban densification aims:

  • Optimise use of urban infrastructure and services
  • Minimise resource and energy consumption
  • Facilitate healthy travel
  • Improve social cohesion
  • Reduce climate impacts

If not properly coordinated, densification and climate mitigation and adaption measures can compete for space. Space is necessary for the enhancement of amenity and liveability through access to public and green areas, for example.

A positive trend shows that over the past 25 years, the greenness of European cities has increased by 38%, with 44% of Europe´s population currently living within 300 metres of a public park.

A holistic planning approach

It is becoming increasingly clear that providing a high-quality, resilient living environment in densifying neighbourhoods requires a dedicated and holistic approach.

The Swedish SymbioCity approach is a prime example. The model sets a framework and standard for multidisciplinary sustainable city planning focusing on engagement and capacity building, as well as co-creation among stakeholders in planning processes. It is being used in many countries. In Germany, the process of Integrierte Stadtenwicklung (integrated urban development) is another example which includes public participation and is linked to national funding.

Successfully approaching 2050

How could a typical European neighbourhood densify successfully approaching 2050? We have completed a design experiment that illustrates how holistic planning and targeted climate actions can address both the growth challenge and the hazards of increasing heatwaves, droughts, heavy rainfall events and flooding.

Redeveloping a neighbourhood – a design experiment

How could a typical European neighbourhood densify successfully through to 2050? Sweco experts have completed a design experiment that illustrates how holistic planning and targeted climate actions can address both the growth challenge and the hazards of increasing heatwaves, droughts, heavy rainfall events and flooding.

The situation in 2020

Our example of a future neighbourhood lies next to a small river. It is centrally located in a town that initially developed during the industrial revolution. In the 1960s and 1990s, a residential building and some workshops were replaced with apartments, large city-owned offices and a municipal building. A two-storey car park was also built, but many cars are still parked in the building courtyard, which also contains sheds.

Roads were progressively widened for traffic and parking, a road was built next to the river and a motorway constructed on its far side. Spaces for nature and recreation were progressively reduced. The river was managed like a canal, but with some traces of nature surviving along its neglected banks.

The challenge for 2050

What if twice as many people will need to live in this neighbourhood, and twice as many jobs will have to be accommodated? The ecosystem service function and the amount of green space will also need to be at least doubled to provide climate adaption and ecosystem resilience. Finally, liveability must also be enhanced, particularly through access to high-quality space. How can this be solved?

Measuring liveability

To measure liveability in this complex space with competing demands, an index is available that summarises the effective accessible space for each neighbourhood resident. The index is based on personal access to private space (initially 100 sqm per resident including hallways, attics, etc.) and to a proportion of different public and semi-public shared spaces such as green space, communal rooms in apartment buildings, and public squares.

The neighbourhood in 2050, showing liveable space for more people and climate mitigation and adaptation.

The neighbourhood in 2050… resilient to heatwaves and drought

Heavy rain has fallen for an hour. The green roofs are saturated. Excess stormwater is channelled to the pond, which fills, overflows and recharges the sunken garden and underground water storage. Due to the successful climate actions, the neighbourhood can be dense, liveable and resilient to precipitation and flooding all at once.

A number of climate actions, used successfully in a variety of Sweco projects, are used to combat the hazards of extreme rain and flooding.

Assessing success in 2050 – can densification and climate resilience work?

In our design experiment, sustainable and clever development supported by targeted climate actions can indeed facilitate a doubling of density in a climate-resilient, liveable way.

Measures in both the public and private realm are required. The need for private space per neighbour and overall space per employee is reduced by 20% due to much better access to shared spaces, more flexible fitouts, better technology, teleworking and shared mobility. Public space is increased and redesigned. Overall, liveability even increases and the need for urban sprawl is reduced.

Qualitative analysis is also critical for a successful design. We used the scoring tool Ester to ensure that the design improves a broad range of ecosystem services such as extreme weather protection and social implications such as physical health.

Conclusions and recommendations

In 2050 the neighbourhood is dense, diverse, liveable and resilient. Even in the middle of a drought and heatwave, neighbours can rest in the shade and children can enjoy playing in the park and fountains. This is due to successful climate actions that address heatwaves and droughts.

The powerful trend of urbanisation will drive urban development for decades to come. Planners in many jurisdictions aim to minimise development outside existing urban boundaries by focusing on targeted urban densification, for economic, social and environmental reasons.

The challenge of accommodating extra dwellings, jobs and services in these urban areas is compounded by the urgent imperatives of the climate crisis. Cities must accommodate new climate mitigation and adaptation measures to protect against increasing climate hazards.

Growth, climate change and the resulting spatial pressures demand dedicated collaboration, planning and design to make towns and cities liveable.

Denser cities need not feel crowded and diminished. Communities can thrive through the social and economic opportunities that cities create. With careful planning and engaging approaches, communities are given a voice and seemingly contradictory demands for space can be resolved. Densification can improve climate resilience and liveability while supporting diverse, enriching human experiences.


  • When creating denser urban places, high-quality, attractive, enriching and socially inclusive public spaces must be a top priority.
  • A high-quality blue and green network is critical to providing fundamental ecosystem services and to enhance liveability in densified neighbourhoods.
  • Qualitative goals and measurable targets for urban blue and green infrastructure are essential to safeguard sufficient space throughout development. Information and analysis on local climate change effects and ecosystem characteristics should be prioritised.
  • Multifunctional use of space is essential. Careful design in combination with smart technologies can provide numerous benefits like shade, water retention, evaporative cooling, social space, safety and security, and visual beauty.
  • Public and semi-public spaces should be used flexibly at different times of the day and year and in different weather.
  • Sustained multi-disciplinary collaboration with specific emphasis on broad citizen engagement is required for equitable, sustainable and resilient solutions and implementation. Visual and inspirational approaches are essential for successful engagement. Continued involvement and engagement over the years refine the approach and strengthen resilience.

Neighbourhoods of tomorrow – Mastering densification and climate resilience

Do you have any questions about designing climate resilient neighbourhoods? Please contact us

Sara Tärk received her master´s degree in Landscape Architecture from the Swedish Agricultural University (SLU) at Alnarp in 2002. She is an experienced landscape architect in both early stages of planning and project development. In recent years she has led an urban planning studio in Gothenburg. Sara has a special interest in how to ensure the quality and quantity of green structures in urban areas.

Stephan Landau is a city planner specialising in holistic urban planning and public participation. He is team leader of the Urban Planning and Regional Development Department at Sweco in Bremen and Hamburg. In his projects, he implements innovative co-creation approaches and other innovative public participation tools. He also advises on how trends and different future scenarios could shape the future of our urban areas.

Ulf Ranhagen is an urban planner and senior chief architect at Sweco. He has wide international experience with a focus on integrating sustainability aspects in comprehensive and detailed city planning. As professor at KTH Royal Institute of Technology, he developed the SymbioCity Approach on behalf of the Swedish Government. As guest professor at Dalarna University and guest researcher at Chalmers, he is involved in R&D projects regarding methods and tools for co-creation including the development and assessment of scenarios for resilient city districts.

William Gastineau-Hills is a geographer and transport specialist who helps to articulate community visions and plan sustainable transport solutions. His experience spans analytics to strategy in Australia, Sweden, China, Russia and Rwanda.

Joakim Friedrich is a civil engineer from the Hamburg University of Applied Sciences / HafenCity University Hamburg. He has more than 20 years of professional experience from construction and building consulting companies in Sweden, Denmark, Germany and Scotland. During the last 10 years, he has worked as a Project Leader and expert for sustainability in numerous projects. Joakim primarily works on BREEAM projects to help make the world a little bit greener.

Other contributing experts

Ann Legeby, Planning Architect, Gothenburg, Sweden.
Daniel Gulliksson, Landscape Architect, Stockholm, Sweden.
Geraldine Angus, Operations Manager, Glasgow, Scotland, UK.
Iris Pollesch, Traffic Planner, Munich, Germany.
Kajsa Crona, Architect and Professor, Gothenburg, Sweden.
Karin Snodgrass, Architect, Berlin, Germany.
Marika Karras, Technical Consultant, Ecosystems Risk Management, Malmö, Sweden.
Martijn Steenstra, Consultant Spatial Planning and Water Management, De Bilt, Netherlands.
Mattias Salomonsson, Senior Expert Climate Adaptation, Halmstad, Sweden.
Olaf Johansson, Hydraulic Engineer, Bremen, Germany.
Olof Persson, Project Leader, Malmö, Sweden.
Sascha Baron, Dr, Traffic Planner, Frankfurt, Germany.
Susanna Hultin, Horticulturalist, Malmö, Sweden.
Sofia Kourbetis, Visualizer, Gothenburg, Sweden.
Marc Springer, Urban Planner and reviewer, Hamburg, Germany.
Sebastian Bokhari Irminger, Project Leader, Malmö, Sweden.

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