How are Swiss cities being planned?

Swiss cities and the growing areas around them are increasingly being developed. An expert on urban transformation walks us through the three phases of Swiss spatial planning, with examples in Zurich.

This content was published on August 26, 2020 - 14:20

Spatial planning has undergone major changes in the course of history. At first, before the 1960s, hardly any distinction was made between building and non-building areas.

From then onwards, Switzerland was surveyed and areas were assigned a use, that is, building land, agricultural land or protected areas. 

In the 1980s, the second generation of Swiss spatial planning came to be. In this phase, residential and office buildings were built over former industrial areas. In this period many companies relocated their production facilities abroad. Freed industrial wasteland that had once been on the outskirts became part of city centres due to the cities growing and were now in attractive locations. But this led to disputes, with the city authorities wanting apartments and developers preferring office spaces. These disagreements resulted in an important planning principle of the first generation to be surpassed, namely that the state specifies the rules and the private stakeholders implement them operationally. Instead, negotiations had to take place. Authorities had to sit down with the builders, investors and owners.  
The third generation has been implemented in connection with a revised Spatial Planning Act, in force since 2014. Being a recent development, there are not yet many examples of this. The most recent implementation of spatial planning is about making changes in neighbourhoods that have already been built. The new spatial planning law requires inner development before exterior development, with the aim of protecting the landscape, reducing urban sprawl and making better use of the available space.

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