An equally good urban environment for everyone

Reconciling different views is a key challenge for regional planning, says Professor of Regional and Urban Inequalities Pia Bäcklund.

What are your research topics?

I explore urban and regional inequalities from the perspective of regional planning practices. Regional inequalities indicate that such practices may include mechanisms maintaining inequity, in other words, that different regions may in some respects be in an unequal position to begin with. 

I focus especially on information practices: what kind of knowledge is used, for example, to decide on investments in specific areas? What social values determine the issues on which information is needed? And what role do officials, elected representatives and residents play in setting planning goals? 

I start from the position that regional planning is political by nature and, hence, the connection between knowledge and power cannot be ignored. 

Where and how does the topic of your research have an impact?

Regional and urban planning fundamentally affect the living environments of current and future generations. As planning is future-oriented, the decisions made today should produce sustainable solutions enabling a good life even a hundred years from now. 

However, the key practical challenge for planning is that we cannot know the challenges that societies will face and the perspectives we should take into account today. 

What is particularly inspiring in your field right now?

Issues challenging the knowledge base of regional and urban planning today include adapting to climate change, maintaining biodiversity, considering the global spillover effects of local green transitions, taking into account both the democracy dimension and business needs, and promoting a sustainable transformation comprehensively in a multicultural world. We should be able to take all these factors into account at the same time. Regional inequalities may also be built in the sustainability discourse by way of the supra-local effects of local practices. 

Accordingly, a key research challenge for planning practices involves reconciling different views in a way that enables conflict resolution supportive of democracy. 

Pia Bäcklund is the Professor of Regional and Urban Inequalities at the Faculty of Science.