Urban planning approaches for low-growth contexts: A case study on the development of existing built environment in Finnish suburbs

Thesis event information

Date and time of the thesis defence

Place of the thesis defence

Linnanmaa, auditorium IT115. Remote connection: https://oulu.zoom.us/j/67424227158

Topic of the dissertation

Urban planning approaches for low-growth contexts: A case study on the development of existing built environment in Finnish suburbs

Doctoral candidate

Architect (M.Sc.) Hanna Kosunen

Faculty and unit

University of Oulu Graduate School, Faculty of Technology, Oulu School of Architecture

Subject of study



Professor Juho Rajaniemi, University of Tampere


Professor Helka-Liisa Hentilä, University of Oulu

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When the city grows slowly, urban planning could benefit from clumsy planning solutions

One task of urban planning has been to guide urban population growth and the resulting urban development so that growth produces economic, ecological, and social well-being. However, it is unclear how urban planning can be approached in situations where urban growth is not the starting point. In Finland, for example, infill development is often considered a means of developing existing suburbs, although there is no demand for infill development everywhere. A key finding of this thesis is that when the city grows slowly, the future may appear uncertain. In this case, urban planning could benefit from so-called clumsy planning solutions where various urban development paths are enabled for an urban neighborhood.

The thesis examines how urban planning is approached in residential areas that do not have a significant increase in population but whose development would be desirable to improve the local conditions or integrate the urban structure. The thesis forms an analytical framework based on Cultural Theory, which identifies four different approaches to urban planning and urban growth. Hierarchical planning seeks to guide urban growth, whereas the goal of individualistic planning is to facilitate growth and the resulting urban development projects. Egalitarian planning seeks to support local action that may aim at improving the quality and use-value of urban environments in the absence of growth. Fatalist planning acknowledges the limited possibilities of urban planning to influence urban growth and development. The suitability of the approaches in the context of low growth was examined in a multiple case study focusing on the development of built environment in four suburbs in Turku and Oulu.

In the multiple case study urban planners deployed various planning approaches, instead of relying only on growth-based approaches. Selecting a suitable approach was most difficult in situations where urban development activities did not yet exist but were desirable. In that case, it was important to acknowledge that a residential area may develop in many ways in the future. However, the idea was challenging to embrace, because urban planning was often understood as an activity that guides urban development to a predetermined outcome. This thesis suggests that in a context of low growth, urban planning could benefit from so-called clumsy planning solutions. In a clumsy planning solution, the four planning approaches are combined so that the solution remains functional in changing situations. The results may help urban planners identify alternative approaches to growth-based planning.
Last updated: 1.3.2023