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The PlanCity project aims to enhance the planning process of land use

Published on 21.4.2020
Tampere University
If Finland wants to keep up with international development, land use planning must be made more agile and focused on the future.

The PlanCity research project at Tampere University wants to transform the Finnish land use planning process.

“The big thing in the PlanCity project is that the current land use planning in Finland is a throwback to old public sector thinking. The most important thing in our research is to challenge this old model and create a completely new school of land use planning”, Industry Professor Ari Ahonen says.

In Finland, land use planning and the related processes are in dire need of streamlining because land use planning takes from three to five years. This is an impossibly long timespan, for example, for international investors.

“International investors expect that their investments begin yielding a profit after 18 months from making the decision to start. The current Finnish policy is way too slow and cumbersome for this to work. Thus, Finland loses out on lucrative projects because the investors are taking their projects elsewhere,” Ahonen explains.

Business life is made an engine of innovation

In addition to slowness, the current system suffers from the dominant role of the public sector. Administrators prepare the framework within which property development actors must operate. However, the world is changing so fast that when a city plan is finally completed after a long design process, it may be obsolete in many ways.

“In Finland, land use planning has historically been a heavily regulated domain of the public sector. Too frequently, you must apply for exemptions when you want to develop something new. We carry out reforms with stamp licences. This is ad hoc work that burdens the system even more,” Ahonen explains.

According to Ahonen, representatives of the business community must also change their mindset and become more active in land use planning processes. Companies cannot just expect officials to take care of land use planning and zoning.

The main idea of ​​the PlanCity project is to involve the private sector more closely in land use planning. Professional land use development companies live in fierce competition, where they need to be able to anticipate future needs in order to succeed. Ideas arising from the needs of companies could be the starting point for zoning in the future.

“Of course, politicians make the decisions. Companies could offer their ideas to decision-makers, allowing the business community to be more actively involved in land use planning. Then companies would compete with innovations instead of who has the best connections to the right officials,” Ahonen says.

The change starts with a public debate

The Faculty of Built Environment wants to be a pioneer in societal impact, the University’s third core mission. Land use planning creates the basis for the activities of the entire society meaning that the public debate on this issue is paramount.

The PlanCity project actively communicates the results and progress of the research and takes the lead in the debate around this topic.

“In addition to scientific articles, we also publish white papers which we use to participate in public debate. At the same time, we are creating a new type of activity, and we also want to be pioneers at the University in this respect,” Ahonen notes.

The strength of Tampere University is interdisciplinarity, and experts from the fields of social research and business studies are also involved in the PlanCity project. CoreLab, the development platform of the Faculty of Built Environment, is responsible for communications and the development of the project networks.

“There is much talk about impact and we want scientific methods to serve the transformation and development of society. Traditionally, we researchers have sat in our chambers and authored reports that hardly anyone reads. We want to do things differently,” Ahonen points out.

Success requires multidisciplinary collaboration

In addition to processes, land use planning also needs higher-quality technology than before.

“Once the new school of land use planning is established, the first question will concern the technology we are doing this with. In the past, drawings were used in zoning. We studied at universities for five years just to read such drawings. But now in the digital world, ideas can be visualised in a whole new way. 3D models and augmented reality also help decision-makers, because they give you a much better understanding of the plans,” Ahonen says.

In support of the PlanCity project, the aim is to gather other research projects that would develop land use planning from a technological, economic or social perspective.

“I am fascinated by this opportunity where we could connect a wide range of experts and projects from different disciplines around this large theme,” Ahonen says.

The LEAN processes of land use as enablers of property development innovations project runs for three years. The project partners include the Housing Finance and Development Centre of Finland, Asuntosäätiö, Hartela Oy, The Foundation for Student Housing in the Helsinki Region HOAS, Senate Properties, Tampere Student Housing Foundation TOAS and VTS-kodit Tampere.


Industry Professor Ari Ahonen, tel. 0400 618 300, ari.ahonen [at] (ari[dot]ahonen[at]tuni[dot]fi)
Professor Panu Lehtovuori, tel. 050 525 0252, panu.lehtovuori [at] (panu[dot]lehtovuori[at]tuni[dot]fi)
Postdoctoral Researcher Jukka Puhto, puh. 050 476 7071, jukka.puhto [at] (jukka[dot]puhto[at]tuni[dot]fi)


Text: Jaakko Kinnunen
The design challenges are compounded by large regional differences in needs.  The photograph depicts the Tampere tram construction site.