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The New Urban Challenge?

Models of Sustainable Welfare in Swedish Metropolitan Cities

This research project brings together researchers from the faculties of social science and engineering at Lund University.

Social inclusion and environmental sustainability are recognized as huge societal challenges. Cities are key sites at which social, economic and ecological societal challenges are handled. However, scholars have up until now not paid much attention to how cities cope with conflicts and synergies between policies directed towards sustainable and socially inclusive societies. Given that a growing share of the population lives in cities and that urban areas use an increasing share of finite resources, we aim to analyze how cities deal with such challenges and investigate the factors that enhance or hamper the development of urban sustainable welfare.

"Smart cities" and social sustainability

The decentralization of social policies is a general tendency both in European and Swedish contexts. Unemployment, poverty and social exclusion are increasingly seen as urbanized social problems, somewhat beyond the reach and responsibilities of national governments. Cities are also facing a series of sustainability challenges due to high consumption of energy and natural resources, use of water and land as well as problems of climate change, air pollution and congestion. To handle such challenges technological solutions and green growth strategies are often promoted, addressed in relation to ‘smart cities’ and ‘strategic urbanism’. While such strategies seek to reconcile sustainability and economic concerns, they tend to neglect social welfare concerns and structures of social inequality.


The overall aim of this project is to analyze models of urban sustainable welfare and the conflicts and synergies these entail. We will explore in depth the interrelations between social inclusion and ecological sustainability within urban governance networks. To what extent do eco-social policies in Swedish metropolitan cities emerge? Which ideas, beliefs and visions about models of urban sustainable welfare do citizens express? What factors hamper and enable the emergence of urban sustainable welfare, for example, structural factors, cultural factors, local actor constellations and orientations?

Three Swedish cities

These research questions will be answered through comparative case studies of three Swedish cities: Stockholm, Göteborg and Malmö. These cases are chosen since they face social risks and challenges of sustainability as discussed above, but also due to the advanced universal welfare arrangements and comparatively progressive environmental policies in Sweden. Swedish metropolitan cities hence constitute key cases for understanding what it might take to develop urban sustainable welfare. In this regard the project will contribute to recent theories and concepts of sustainable welfare, which were mainly developed for global and national contexts. We will develop this concept further and apply it to urban settings.

Three thematic studies

The project is divided into three thematic studies.

  1. In the first, we study urban eco-social policies and governance arrangements in the three cities as well as the prevalence of eco-social policies aimed at integrating ecological and social objectives. Here, the main data are policy documents complemented with interviews with policy-makers and city officials. We will also conduct case studies of urban planning processes related to the construction of new, high-profiled sustainability projects and to the reformation of existing neighbourhoods facing huge social problems.
  2. In the second, we study contestations and conflicts between different groups in the urban space in order to explore the extent to which relevant political actors embrace and resist models of urban sustainable welfare, the political positions they represent and the strategies they follow. For this study, we will analyze media reporting and debates in the three cities and conduct interviews with representatives of civil-society organizations and social partners.
  3. In the third, we focus on urban residents and study the challenges and possibilities metropolitan citizens envision in conceiving models of urban sustainable welfare. Here, we will conduct a survey with a random sample of 900 residents in each city.

The research will be conducted by a team of scholars from the faculties of social science and engineering at Lund University, all with ample experience in comparatively studying social policy and sustainability governance. Local stakeholder committees will be formed in the three cities to deliberate on the research design and to discuss the results and how these can be applied in practice.