Urban Planning for a Quality Dense Green Structure &endash; Stockholm Sociotop Map and Park Programme

Alexander Ståhle

Text of paper to the COST C 11 "Green structures and urban planning" 6th Management Committee Meeting and Working Group Meetings 6/10 &endash; 8/10 2002 in Milan, Italy.

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Complex planning conditions

Sweden's capital Stockholm, with its 1,5 million inhabitants, is today recognised as one of the most attractive and beautiful metropolitan areas in Europe. Politics say, "save" and "grow". This is the situation urban planners face: "promote urban growth while sustaining the city's attractivity". This challenge is solved, and not solved, differently on different planning levels. In the Stockholm Regional Plan (RUFS 2001) regional nodes for development are identified as well as the important regional green structure: the "green wedges" that connect the countryside with city centre. The "wedge" concept stands in clear conflict with the Regional Plan's highway plans. The Stockholm City Plan (ÖP-99) says, "build the city inwards", which is an overall in-fill strategy in semi central brownfields and public transport nodes. The City Plan also contains enhancing the characteristic cityscape and saving the existing green structure. The City Plan does not say anything about how a new green structure can be changed or should be developed. On the local level Detailed Plans for single plots, so called "voids", are developed, promoted by building companies, but with a clear lack of understanding of the local public.


Figures. Development areas in the Regional plan, the City plan and Local plans

Planning policies based on public dialogue

What is missing in urban planning today is thus, an interface between municipal and local planning levels and constructive dialogue with stakeholders and the public, especially about green structure. A green structure that will be affected by the planned regional and municipal development, and not thoroughly planned local plot developments. To face this complex polarisation of urban interests (save and/or grow) the Stockholm municipality is developing new planning guidelines, a Park Programme, based on new concepts for public interests, the "sociotop". The Sociotop Map is based on public dialogue, and made for planning on city district level (scale 1:10 000), connecting municipal and local levels, City plan and Local plans. The urban (green structure) planning is with these tools made to focus on qualities and possibilities of developing qualities, to deal with growth and open up for qualitative change.

The sociotop idea and mapping method

The "sociotop" concept was invented by me and my colleague Anders Sandberg at the Strategic Department of the Planning Administration in Stockholm, to complement the accepted concept of the "biotop" (ecologically defined environment). We define sociotop, with support from environmental psychology, social anthropology, architecture theory, and phenomenology, as "The commonly experienced and used (life world) place of a specific culture". The concept raises the questions "For whom?", "For what?" and "Where?". A sociotop map of a city district describes the common everyday life qualities of open space, green, grey or blue, public or private. The "specific culture" is in this case the citizens of Stockholm. The map is created in the following way: First open spaces > 1 ha are defined and named, on basis of basic city-landscape categories like parks, nature, squares, shores and quays. Also open spaces < 1ha in built-up areas are defined depending on density and open space quality. Secondly, professionals (landscape architects) value the open spaces under observation with protocols, developed from international and national research on open space life and evaluations. Park experts as for example park- and garden historians are also engaged.


Thirdly, the citizens get the opportunity to value their parks and influence the Sociotop Map through several "dialogue activities", partly administered by the city district administrations. On short questionnaires about "favourite outdoor places" posted to adults and personnel at day nurseries and pre-schools, published in the local news paper, webbforms at the city district's webbsites, interviews and focus groups with youths, adults and elderly people the different place qualities of the public are collected. Environmental psychologist Maria Nordström at Stockholm University developed the latest questionnaires and interview guides. Since 1996 the Stockholm municipality has carried out about 20 inquiries on park and open space qualities and use. This dialogue information is compiled together with the professional registrations into 20 quality-concepts or "socio-cultural values". Then every specific place is registered with its specific composition of qualities into a sociotop map. The compilation of public and expert place information is done through various cross-checkings, place to place, quality to quality. The quality-concepts are deliberately made to a simple everyday language (e.g. play, picnic, swimming etc) to work as an interface (a tool for communication) between the "public" and the "planner". The GIS-based map can now be used for green structure analyses in various urban planning projects.

Parks and Nature support urban life

Our investigations of the public opinion and peoples activities confirm that parks and nature in the city support urban life. Municipal decisions, mass media, as well as scientific and municipal inquiries suggest that this will also be the case in the city's metropolitan future, that there will be a need of:


- peace and relaxation for stressed urban inhabitants,

- a diversity of public meeting places for cultural integration,

- a "second" living room for people in confined quarters,

- places for informal meetings and reflection for businessmen and researchers,

- places for the non-organised sports for spontaneous activities that complement the organised elite,

- activity space for a sedentary and over-weight city population,

- environments for children to discover the world,

- active and social places for youths,

- understanding of ecology, climate and our biological heredity in a world dominated by the computer screen,

- cleaning the polluted city air,

- maintaining historical places and developing local identity of the place to counter globalisation, and

- creating public arenas for contemporary art and garden design.


All this can support the city and constitute the basis for economic growth, if also accessibility, safety and comfort are taken into account. People and businesses will choose Stockholm, not only for work, shopping, culture and service, but also because the city has a good supply of parks and nature.

In-fills mean new green structure

An attractive growing city creates a pressure on urban planning and in-fill strategies. The common response of the public to in-fills is green area protection and conservation, which is an expression of the areas' great importance. But it is not possible, nor desirable, to conserve "everything" in a city, as it is constantly changing and growing. In-fills and new dwellings must be related to the supply of park- and nature qualities of a project's surroundings and of a city district as a hole. Urban planners and park planners must look at green areas as changeable and moveable, and possible to reconstruct. By reshaping and creating new green structure at the same time as new buildings and roads are built, the urban environment can gain in quality, even if the quantity of green space is reduced. The fact is that buildings (the people in them) can favour the parks as meeting places, but also create peacefulness, if located as noise abatement against heavy traffic. It is all about making a quality dense city. That kind of city has a good supply of parks because parks make the city into a diversified environment for many lifestyles. Good parks in the inner city also counteract "urban sprawl", which affect many European cities today.

Policies and guidelines in the Park Programme

The Stockholm Park Programme (under construction 2002) is a comprehensive policy and strategy for green space development, partly based on the sociotop-map, and designed to be an integrated tool in urban planning and design.


Fig. Stockholm Green Structure Planning System



The Park Programme has three main goals: 1) good supply of parks, 2) sustainable park environment and 3) rich park culture. The first goal is turned into dynamic planning guidelines of two sorts, qualitative and quantitative. The quantitative guidelines summarises policies and recommendations from the European commission's Expert Group on the Urban Environment, the Nordic Council of Ministers, the National Board of Housing, Building and Planning and the Office of Regional Planning and Urban Transportation in Stockholm. The qualities (below) are from the Sociotop Map, i.e. from the public dialogue on common life qualities of open space in Stockholm, hence adapted to the municipal context.



A) Quality density

Within 200 m: green oasis, play, peacefulness, sit in the sun, walking

Within 500 m: flowers, lively place, picnic, soccer

Within 1 km: swimming, farming, events, fishing, sledge slope, skating, forest, history, view, water contact, wild nature

Accessibility is reachability, publicness, traversability

B) Green structure

Within 1 km &endash; Nature reserve >50ha

Within 500 m &endash; City district park 5-50ha,

Within 200 m &endash; Park block 1-5ha

Open space <1 ha complement


These guidelines promote the discussion in the urban planning process about how a good supply of park qualities is fulfilled and what spaces and which places are needed for this object. The overall goal is a quality dense green structure. Three main strategies are described in the Park Programme, to reach this goal. The first is expansion, which means expanding open space due to lack of space for developing qualities. Second is concentration, which means renewing existing open space and/or reducing the amount of open space while improving the left over open space. Concentration has also to do with increasing accessibility, which concerns possibilities to reach a place (e.g. children), the public character of the place (e.g. economical interests) and the possibility to walk through the place (e.g. handicapped). The last is maintenance, which means maintaining well functioning spaces and structures.


Experience show that some qualities, open spaces, need specific locations such as swimming and view. Qualities like peacefulness and childrens' playing are difficult to superimpose in a park and demand specific spaces. Sunbathing and walking can on the other hand be integrated into a park design. Now, quality dense parks become attractive, which creates high attendance rates, which increases wear and tear. Sustainability is thus dependent on park size and maintenance. If the green areas are to remain green and retain their qualities they have to be big enough. At the same time they have to be a part of a well-connected green structure to be accessible and simultaneously function as a sustainable ecosystem. Qualified maintenance is crucial.

Co-ordination and dialogue between stakeholders

There are many stakeholders that run the public green areas in Stockholm today. Future green structure planning, projects and maintenance thus demands a dynamic dialogue between politicians, administrators, keepers, experts and the public to ensure a quality dense green structure. It is a question of co-operation and mutual understanding. It is no use building a good park if it is not kept well, and it is no use maintaining a bad park. The users first of all decide what is "good" or "bad".

Work in progress and future

The Sociotop Map and the Park Programme guidelines have already been used in several urban planning projects. In the NW Kungsholmen area (a &endash; brown field - development area defined in the City Plan, also a part of an inner city district) analyses of the "supply of parks" where made. They resulted in a proposed new park at the waterfront (today a parking lot, first meant to be housing) and new dwellings (on existing green space) along a highway to reduce traffic noise in a reduced, but improved park. In one case where the urban planners did not take the Sociotop Map in to consideration (they suggested housing on a very valuable park), the public response to the plan was so fierce that the planners had to withdraw their proposal.


Fig. Proposals for NW Kungsholmen before (left) and after (right) the sociotopwork.


Another example is a fill-in project in the old hospital area of Sabbatsberg in the inner city, where the park beside the area of development had to be improved, with a higher density of qualities, due to green space reduction in the city district as a hole. Finally, analyses of the dense inner city district of Östermalm (liked by the "urbanist"-architects) showed that the city district basically fulfilled the guidelines, which is a due to a good green structure (planning).




Alexander Ståhle, landscape architect, former park planner at the Stockholm City Planning Administration and future Phd-student at the School of Architecture in Stockholm, Sweden. (alexanderstahle@yahoo.se)




NOTE: The sociotop-model has begun to get attention in other Urban Planning Administrations in Sweden. E.g. the sociotop-model is starting to be used and promoted by the Office of Regional Planning and Urban Transportation as a planning tool for the "green wedges". (See the report "Upplevelsevärden", in Swedish.) The municipality of the second-biggest city in Sweden Gothenburg has recently started to make a sociotop map, that in the long run will result in a new locally based park programme, with policies and guide lines for the development the urban area of Gothenburg. Up until today about 10 maps/plans/projects has been carried out with sociotop-model as a base. Around 20 are planned or on going in September 2002.







Boverket (National Board of Housing, Building and Planning). 1999. Gröna områden i planeringen (Swedish)

Expert group on the Urban Environment, European commission. 2001. Towards a local sustainability &endash; European common indicators

Nordiska ministerrådet (The Nordic Council of Ministers). 1996. Friluftsliv trenger mer enn areealer. Tema Nord 1996:591 (Norwegian)

Regionplane- och trafikkontoret (The Office of Regional Planning and Urban Transportation). 2001. Regionplan Regional utvecklingsplan för Stockholms län &endash; RUFS 2001. Stockholms läns landsting (Swedish)

Regionplane- och trafikkontoret (The Office of Regional Planning and Urban Transportation). 2001. Upplevelsevärden &endash; Sociala kvaliteter i den regionala grönstrukturen. Stockholms läns landsting, Rapport 2001:4 (Swedish)

Regionplane- och trafikkontoret (The Office of Regional Planning and Urban Transportation). 1996. Grönstrukturen i Stockholmsregionen. Stockholms läns landsting (Swedish)

Stadsbyggnadskontoret. 2001. Stockholms översiktsplan 1999 &endash; ÖP99. Stockholms stad (Swedish)

Ståhle, A. 2000. Sociotop som redskap i grönområdesplanering. Stockholms stadsbyggnadskontor. Rapport 2000:4 (Swedish)

Ståhle, A. & Sandberg, A. 2002. Sociotopkarta för parker och andra friytor i Stockholms innerstad. Stockholms stadsbyggnadskontor. Rapport 2002:2 (Swedish)

Ståhle, A. & Sandberg, A. (forthcoming) Sociotopkarta för parker och andra friytor i Stockholms innerstad &endash; English summary. In: Communicating urban Growth and green &endash; Planning and Governence of the Urban Landscape: Proceedings of the first GREENSCOM conference in Helsinki-Espoo-Finland, 4-6 June 2000.


updated 25 oct 2002