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II. The Ideal-type Of Strong Local Government Planning

In Logan and Molotch (1987, p. 153) we can read:

"Intervention in land use in the USA has never been meant to replace the operation of the property marketplace, only to smooth out its functioning"

We will return to the meaning of this later, but we can note that they mention Sweden as an extreme contrast to the American situation (p. 147). What was it then that characterised Swedish land use planning at that time?

I think we can identify at least the following properties:

  1. The municipalities formulated visions about how the city should develop in the future.
  2. The municipalities also had clear ideas about what should be constructed on a specific lot.
  3. The municipality had a strong legal position, both in terms of rights to expropriate land and buildings on favourable conditions, and in terms of rights to decide about land-use and the characteristics of specific buildings.
  4. It was not possible to appeal against a decision by the municipality, except if there were formal mistakes when the decisions were made.
  5. The municipality was a dominating land owner.
  6. The municipality owned real estate companies that could function as developers for housing, shopping centres, office buildings and industrial parks. They could also own and manage this real estate.
  7. The central government regulated the credit market, and supplied, for example, the municipal housing companies with finance on generous terms.

One could perhaps add that in this ideal type there are also strong local politicians, i.e. politicians that were not afraid to disregard the views of small opposing groups if that was necessary for the renewal of the city.

After local government reforms in the 1950s, most local governments covered a whole city and surrounding areas, so there was no role in planning for regional authorities. Even in the handful of metropolitan areas with several local governments, the regional level played a weak role, primarily because a strong historical heritage of "self-governing" local governments.

This ideal type can be described in terms of three core components.

Component 1: The local government dominated ideologically. The local political apparatus formulated the general visions and also the visions concerning specific projects.

Component 2: The local government had a strong legal position, which gave them wide decision-making powers, and also the right to expropriate land and buildings if that was judged to be necessary. The private owners of land had no right to change the land use, and were not entitled to compensation if a development was not allowed.

Component 3: The local government had a strong financial position, partly through local taxes that grew because of a positive general economic development, and partly through resources supplied by the central government. These resources made it possible for the municipality to implement their decisions without compromising with private suppliers of capital.

Table 1: The Ideal Type of Planning with a Strong Local Government

Component The position of the local government
Visions Strong
Legal rights Strong
Financial resources Strong

In this ideal type, the private real estate developers that wanted to survive had to do what the local government wanted them to do. These actors in the private sector had a weak bargaining position, because the local government could implement the projects themselves if the private sector made demands that conflicted with the ideas of the local government. The private firms worked primarily as builders, with the entrepreneurial role concerning land development taken over by the local government, and with no role for the land market.

In one sense, however, the local government was always dependent on decisions made by private firms. We are talking about land use planning in a market economy where private firms dominate in most sectors of the economy. Most of these private firms were not geographically constrained, but could move production to another region or even another country. To clarify the meaning of the ideal type of strong local government planning, it is necessary to make a distinction between - to put it crudely - firms that belong to the economic base and real estate firms (developers, property owners/investors, construction firms). The municipalities were always dependent upon private firms, mostly in the manufacturing sectors, to move to or expand in their city. But what characterises the ideal type of strong local government planning was that the local government was not dependent upon the views of private real estate firms. The municipalities had to negotiate with the firms in the economic base, but they could develop, own, and manage the real estate if they wanted to. Some of the big municipal housing companies even had construction divisions, even if many builders were private firms. Of course, the firms in the economic base usually had some views about land use, but these primarily concerned their own need for a land reserve on which to expand, and on rail and road connections for their plant.

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