The Untapped Potential of Urban Planning: Achieving Greater Success in Environmental Sustainability

Eeva Säynäjoki

    Research output: ThesisDoctoral ThesisCollection of Articles


    Both the source of and the potential solution to the global ecological decline can be traced to urban areas, where population and consumption concentrate to become the demand centres of the global economy. In an ever-increasing number of political visions, urban planning has the power to enable better futures through the transformation of urban areas into sustainable communities. The purpose of this dissertation is to examine how urban planning is applied to promote and facilitate environmental sustainability and to shed light on the extent to which current policies and practices are successful in reducing the environmental burden of urban communities. The context of the research is sparsely populated regions where, even in the major cities, population density is low on a global scale. The predominantly qualitative, multi-method research approach includes two multiple case studies, a literature-based analysis, and a focus group study. Linking the findings of four separate publications, the dissertation argues that the full potential of urban planning to promote and facilitate environmental sustainability is not being reached. The densification of urban structures is found to be the dominant means through which urban planning attempts to achieve environmental improvements in sparsely populated urban areas. However, the anticipated environmental benefits of urban densification as a generic planning strategy do not necessarily materialise in sparsely populated regions, and the eventual environmental impacts and outcomes of urban regeneration may in end effect be contradictory to the objectives specified in the planning and decision-making processes. Even more worrisome is that the environmental considerations made in urban planning appear to ignore a significant, varying share of the environmental burden that urban areas are responsible for. Professionals of urban planning do not see a connection between urban structure and sustainable lifestyles or consumption choices, aside from those related to housing and daily journeys. Conversely, this limited scope of urban planning's perceived influence carries the risk of actually increasing consumption. A broader perspective on urban environmental sustainability is suggested to provide greater success in reducing environmental burden through urban planning.
    Translated title of the contributionYhdyskuntasuunnittelun piilevä potentiaali ekologisesti kestävän kehityksen edistämisessä
    Original languageEnglish
    QualificationDoctor's degree
    Awarding Institution
    • Aalto University
    • Junnila, Seppo, Supervising Professor
    • Heinonen, Jukka, Thesis Advisor
    Print ISBNs978-952-60-6301-0
    Electronic ISBNs978-952-60-6302-7
    Publication statusPublished - 2015
    MoE publication typeG5 Doctoral dissertation (article)


    • environmental sustainability
    • urban planning
    • sustainable communities
    • consumption
    • GHG emissions
    • sparsely populated regions
    • urban densification


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