Spatial planning for sustainable rural municipalities : when theory and practice meet

Abstract: Local natural resources (LNRs) are essential for the socioeconomy of rural societies. The United Nations (UN) Agenda 21 and “Our Common Future” state that local spatial planning is central for the prospect of balancing ecological, social and economic sustainable development (SuD). Stakeholder participation in spatial planning enhances acceptance and improves preconditions for successful planning outcomes. Consequently, it is important to increase knowledge about LNRs and the use of them and to integrate such knowledge in local spatial participatory planning with a landscape perspective. These opening statements apply to Swedish boreal municipalities and describe the intentions of Swedish municipal comprehensive planning (MCP). The purpose of this work was to examine and analyze the preconditions for integrating MCP with a landscape perspective in rural municipalities. The thesis is based on case studies in Swedish, rural, municipal contexts reported in five papers. In Papers I & II, local businesses in Vilhelmina Municipality were surveyed to describe the societal importance of LNRs. The results showed that LNRs are vital to 78 % of the businesses, of which half are based on forest farming, and there are strong bonds between entrepreneurs, their businesses, the municipality and LNRs. Papers III & IV present and discuss the characteristics of MCP in theory and practice. An e-mail survey was sent to municipal officials in all Swedish mountain municipalities. MCP-stakeholders in municipalities in Bergslagen, in central Sweden, were interviewed. Respondents in both case studies stated a belief that MCP can offer prospects in planning for SuD. However, resources and stakeholder participation in planning are generally scarce, especially in rural municipalities. Paper V illustrates how new knowledge on forest land use (to support MCP) can be gained by combining spatial and temporal data on forest condition, owners and land use values in a geographic information system (GIS). This thesis provides scientific and practical contributions to aid in efforts aiming for SuD. It is done by framing MCP theoretically and contextually and by suggesting that MCP should be extended to include forest land use and by stressing the rural context in local spatial participatory planning. Opportunities in MCP have to be embraced, but local governments need enhanced knowledge about local land use, specifically forest land use. Moreover, stakeholder participation needs to be developed, requiring more resources. In the case of a Swedish rural municipality, it is crucial that efforts are made to develop MCP as a tool, not just in theory but also in practice.

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