For years urbanists have been paying close attention to how Scandinavia has been an urban planning trendsetter. Cities such as Copenhagen have been tweaked to become more bike friendly, while in Stockholm you are never more than 300 meters away from a park.
It all boils down to good (Nordic) planning.
“Nordic urban planning has come to be associated with concerns with urban life, with human scale design and with sustainability. Copenhagen, for example, is often ranked as one of the world's most ‘liveable' cities as well as one of the most ‘green',” David Pinder, Professor of Urban Studies, Roskilde University, tells The Local.
Professor Pinder is one of the coordinators of the two-year master's programme in Nordic Urban Planning Studies. The new programme, which is taught in English and launches in September, is a collaboration involving universities in three Nordic countries: Sweden, Denmark and Norway.
Students will get the opportunity to move between the universities in Malmö, Roskilde and Tromsø and cover modules such as Critical Urban Studies, Planning and Democracy and Arctic Cities.
Pinder says that the international nature of Nordic planning has been fundamental in shaping the new programme.
“Nordic urban planning is diverse and changing, yet it clearly has a strong international reputation. This has roots that go back to its emphasis on welfare and the public realm,” says the professor.
But just what is it that sets Nordic planning apart? Tina Saaby was the city architect for Copenhagen for eight and a half years, until January 2019, and tells The Local that good city planning is about much more than just bricks and cement.
Tina Saaby. Photo: Agnes Saaby Thomsen
“The most important part in the Nordics is that we have a big understanding for human beings. It is not just about the buildings themselves; we place an emphasis on liveability, lifequality and community in developing a city,” says Saaby. For example, daylight is very important in the Nordics and catching the daylight goes into the planning process.”
She adds: “The way we plan our cities is also done in a democratic way where dialogue is vital; it is in our DNA. So we are good in seing the processes as a part of the planning system as well.
Professor Pinder supports this perspective but adds that “among current concerns are those around inequality and segregation, especially in relation to housing. It's vital that we ask questions such as, for whom are cities being made liveable and sustainable? How can we build a good urban life for all citizens and not only the more privileged?"
While Scandinavian cities have enjoyed a reputation for urban planning designed to cater for social and environmental needs as part of the welfare state, this ethos has been challenged in recent years as a result of political and economic changes.
“We are interested in analysing these changing natures of urban development and the roles of planning within them, both existing and potential,” says Professor Pinder about the new Nordic Urban Planning programme. “Our students will also explore how citizens may be more empowered to shape their own environments.”
Photo: Alicia Steels/ unsplash
The two-year programme, which is supported by the Nordic Council of Ministers, will give students the chance to get hands-on experience in their chosen field. Internships can be coordinated with Roskilde University and projects conducted with external partners are key components of the education.
Back on campus, students will get an international outlook on their studies with lectures taking place in Sweden's Malmö University, Tromsø (The Arctic University of Norway) as well as Roskilde University in Denmark.
“Students will have a great opportunity to work with prominent researchers in Denmark, Sweden and Norway, and to engage with real-world cases in diverse settings, from the streets of Copenhagen to the urban landscapes of the Arctic,” says Pinder.
The programme promises to engage students as they will work both individually and in groups to develop their skills and knowledge on urban planning and development. Organisers of the new programme are keen to stress that it isn't about simply celebrating the Nordic approach, but about studying the Scandinavian methods to solving urban problems in a global context where cities have become central to many social and environmental challenges of our times.
Practicing urban planning is a skill that requires many different disciplines: geography, sociology, politics, design, architecture, anthropology, engineering, just to name a few. Students coming to the Nordic Urban Planning Studies are expected to be drawn to this interdisciplinary programme from a variety of backgrounds in the social sciences or other relevant fields. While there is a strong cross pollination involving the three universities, students can choose to specialise at the campus of their choice.
With a joint degree awarded by all three universities, graduates will be qualified for careers such as project leaders in urban consultancies, coordinators of city development, urban planners as well as research positions for those keen to embark on a PhD.
Photo: Roskilde University
“The international and interdisciplinary dimensions of the programme, along with its strong analytical training, will make graduates attractive to a wide range of organisations, companies and agencies concerned with cities and urban environments.,” says Professor David Pinder.
He continues, “In Denmark, urban planning students often find work in municipalities or governmental institutions. Yet this programme is additionally oriented to working with private companies and consultancies, including international companies that have become major actors in urban development.”
International firms such as Siemens have welcomed the approach of the new programme says Pinder, which has a strong focus on critical analytical skills. Graduates will naturally be suited to working for companies in Scandinavia but, equally, taking their new Nordic perspectives further afield will appeal to many organisations.
Having worked as Copenhagen's city architect for eight and a half years, Tina Saaby offers the following advice for prospective students.
“In the Nordics, we insist on knowing what a planning project gives back to the city and its people. Urban planners need to understand political leadership but fundamentally you need to have site specific knowledge and understand the character of the city and the region.”
The Nordic Urban Planning programme will have its first semester this September at Roskilde University in Denmark. Deadline for applications is March 1st 2019. Click here to find out more about the programme and how to apply.
This article was produced by The Local Creative Studio and sponsored by Roskilde University.