15. A Good Built Environment

15. A Good Built Environment. Photo: Göran Assner/Johnér Bildbyrå."Cities, towns and other built-up areas must provide a good, healthy living environment and contribute to a good regional and global environment. Natural and cultural assets must be protected and developed. Buildings and amenities must be located and designed in accordance with sound environmental principles and in such a way as to promote sustainable management of land, water and other resources."

Our built environment has to meet the needs of people and society, offer a good living environment and contribute to sustainable development. How we live our lives affects the environment in many ways, whether it be a matter of the way we heat our homes, travel to work and leisure activities, or separate our waste. The built environment accounts for almost 40 per cent of Sweden’s total energy consumption, for example, and the waste we leave behind needs to be reduced and better used as a resource. Many built environments also have significant cultural heritage values.

In recent decades, the populations of Sweden’s larger urban areas have grown. Towns and cities have spread, and shopping developments have been established outside their centres, increasing the need for transport. Meanwhile, central areas of towns are becoming denser. This may reduce transport demand and offer climate benefits, but can also increase problems of noise. Sometimes, ‘densification’ has been achieved by building on green space, reducing opportunities for outdoor recreation close to people’s homes.

What are the challenges?

Key challenges include conserving the cultural heritage of built environments, reducing the impacts of transport noise and poor indoor environments, and minimising hazardous waste. Action is needed at every level of society, ranging from international agreements on vehicle noise to greater consideration for the environment when roads and homes are planned and built. Building design and methods of construction are also very important, as are the ways in which buildings are managed and renovated. In addition, there needs to be a shift to renewable energy sources and sustainable means of transport.

In physical planning, existing regulatory frameworks, especially the Planning and Building Act, need to be applied in ways that offer greater environmental benefits. Local authority comprehensive planning, if developed, could become a vital tool in achieving several aspects of A Good Built Environment. Among other things, up-to-date and relevant planning documents are needed, as is coordinated planning of settlements and infrastructure.