Understanding sustainable accessibility in urban planning: Themes of consensus, themes of tension

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date


Subject Area

land use - planning, land use - urban density, mode - bike, mode - bus, mode - car, mode - pedestrian, mode - rail, place - europe, place - urban, planning - integration, policy - sustainable


Sustainable accessibility, Accessibility, Planning, Tension, Sweden


Current urban planning for sustainability is gradually shifting from car-based to proximity ideals. However, when concretized in regular planning thinking and practice, the latter ideal becomes contested and complex. This paper explores sustainable accessibility and how urban planners understand, seek to operationalize, and integrate the concept in their planning practices; we consider what planners hope to achieve in this process and the tensions they experience in doing so. The data, collected through semi-structured, focus-group interviews (workshops) with 35 planners in three Swedish municipalities, were subjected to thematic qualitative analysis. Urban planners' interpretations of sustainable accessibility form five recurrent themes: the importance of cross-sectoral approaches in planning; the need for urban land-usedensification; measures to shift the transport mode balance in favour of walking, cycling, and public transit; facilitating proximity to everyday activities; and planning in accordance with citizens' rights to access basic services. Although there is overall agreement on these themes, discussing how the related policies should be implemented reveals several tensions, for example: city centre densification could reinforce gentrification, resulting in displacement and increased travel; tension regarding to what extent and where car use should be reduced; trade-offs between the needs of different groups; and accounting for quality and functionality factors when stressing the importance of proximity to services. In conclusion, disagreements arising when implementing sustainable accessibility goals relate in many ways to social considerations and to the socio–spatial distribution of resources.


Permission to publish the abstract has been given by Elsevier, copyright remains with them.


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