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Urban Commons

Urban Commons is a research programme within SFO Urban Sustainability centred on interdisciplinary research and colla­boration for socially sustainable urban development. It focuses on both existing residential areas and innovative urban planning for urban social sustainability

The research represents a holistic perspective that includes public health, welfare, ecology, ethics, outlook and enabling more people to participate in the transition to a fossil-free and greener society. One key aspect of urban commons is the shared participation and influence of people in sustainable urban development.

Social sustainability

The development of society in Sweden and internationally has been characterised by global market liberalisation, increasing environmental and health problems and growing individualisation in recent decades. This has led to a decline in joint projects and solutions in different areas of society. The Swedish general welfare state has gradually taken on the nature of a mixed welfare model with market models and private welfare stakeholders. There has been redistribution of resources from the democratically governed public sector to the market-driven private sector, where resources and influence have been concentrated among certain groups. This has resulted in increasing inequality and polarisation, with groups and areas being marginalised. This is particularly evident in urban environments, where some groups have accumulated very valuable property and capital in city centres and residential areas, while excluded groups live in segregated and deprived suburban areas. This urban development causes social problems and adversely impacts on public health, welfare and people’s living conditions and is therefore not socially sustainable. Urban Commons focuses on criteria for sustainable urban development, focusing in particular on social sustainability. Socially sustainable urban development aims to increase accessibility, inclusion, equity and equality in order to promote the right of citizens to equivalent good health and well-being in a healthy environment.

The concept “commons”

Urban Commons is a concept that focuses on the relationship between urban planning/built environment and social conditions, actors, activities and processes. How can the urban environment be designed to create joint participation, influence, and activity - and how can social actors jointly contribute to the design of places for meetings and activities? Urban commons are places, resources or phenomena that lie between or beyond the private and the public, the market, and the state. In research, “commons” has a broader meaning that includes the common ground, communities, and commonalities. The common ground that unites people and brings them together. Commons can thus include communities – groups and areas – but is broader than that. “Commons” can be said to be the opposite of “commodity”. Privatisation has reduced equivalence and shared access to resources, services and places, as is particularly evident in urban spaces. Commons may be synonymous with the public sector, but the public sector becomes commons only when citizens have genuine influence. Commons means more democracy rather than more state. The key element of commons is the commonality itself, not whether it exists in a private or a public context, form of ownership or management. However, deregulation, market models and commo­dification of the public sector have weakened the collective democratic influence over society’s resources. Commons is all about shared influence within and beyond the state and the market, and that people who are affected should have equivalent access and rights to participate in and influence decision-making processes that affect their lives.

Research programme

The Urban Commons research programme focuses on how the common can be strengthened in different ways in order to benefit socially sustainable urban develop­ment. More specifically, it relates to common strategies on how to provide the city’s residents with equivalent access to clean air, water, natural areas, parks, housing, community centres, streets and squares, shopping centres, infrastructure, work, education, services, health, care and welfare, for example. This requires consideration of forms of ownership, urban planning, administration, management and distribution. Building social relationships and common resources paves the way for shared power and influence. Networking and self-organisation are important foundations for common action, empowerment and participatory democracy. Urban social sustainability requires long-term community work that involves various forms of social planning, local development and social mobilisation.

Themes within the programme

The Urban Commons interdisciplinary research programme spans a range of topics. What unites them is that their research focuses on economically, ecologically and socially sustainable urban development, focusing primarily on social sustainability. The research programme has a number of general themes:

- Societal conditions for health, welfare and urban social sustainability

- Community work and urban planning for socially sustainable urban development

- Ecosocial work for health and sustainable urban development

- Community climate commons to enable more people to participate in the transition to a fossil-free society

- Migration, inclusion and ethnic diversity for sustainable cities

- Existential aspects of sustainable urban development

- Capital formation and Corporate Social Responsibility for sustainable urban development

Research projects

Almost twenty research projects are in progress within the scope of these general themes. The research network based at the University of Gävle for Urban Commons includes some twenty researchers. Several of the researchers also participate in the research program FAIRTRANS. Doctoral projects linked with Urban Commons are also being conducted within the Future-Proof Cities research school.


The latest publications from the research group within Urban Commons.

  • Sjöberg, S. & Turunen, P. (2022). Community work in Nordic welfare states in transformation : directions, conditions and dilemmas. Nordic Social Work Research. https://doi.org/10.1080/2156857x.2022.2056812
  • Colding, J., Barthel, S., Ljung, R. Eriksson, F., and Sjöberg, S. Urban Commons and Collective Action to Address Climate Change. Social Inclusion (ISSN: 2183–2803) 2022, Volume 10, Issue 1, Pages 103–114 https://doi.org/10.17645/si.v10i1.4862
  • Andersson, E., Grimm, N., Lewis, J., Redman, C., Barthel, S., Colding, J. & Elmqvist, T. (2022). Urban climate resilience through hybrid infrastructure. Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability, 55. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cosust.2022.101158
  • Chang, E., Sjöberg, S., Turunen, P. & Rambaree, K. (2022). Youth Empowerment for Sustainable Development: Exploring Ecosocial Work Discourses. Sustainability, 14 (6). https://doi.org/10.3390/su14063426
  • Elmqvist, T., Andersson, E., McPhearson, T., Bai, X. Bettencourt, L., Brondizio, E., Colding, J. al. 2021. Urbanization in and for the Anthropocene. npj Urban Sustain 1,6 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1038/s42949-021-00018-w
More publications
  • Colding, J., Marcus, L. and S. Barthel. 2021. Promoting Partnership between Urban Design and Urban Ecology through Social-Ecological Resilience Building. In M. Wallhagen and M. Cehlin, editors, Urban Transition - Perspectives on Urban Systems and Environments. Published: March 10th 2021. https://doi.org/10.5772/intechopen.96642
  • Barthel, S., Colding, J., Hiswåls, A., Thalén, P., Turunen, P. 2021. Urban green commons for socially sustainable cities and communities. Nordic Social Work Research. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/2156857x.2021.1947876
  • Sjöberg, S. & Kings, L. (2021). Suburban commons : the rise of suburban social movements and new urban commons in marginalized neighborhoods in Stockholm. Nordic Social Work Research. https://doi.org/10.1080/2156857X.2021.1982753
  • Sjöberg, S. (2021). Community work in the context of the Swedish welfare model in transition. Social Glocalisation and Education : Social Work, Health Sciences, and Practical Theology Perspectives on Change. Leverkusen Opladen: Verlag Barbara Budrich. S. 97-114.
  • Colding, J., Colding, M. & Barthel, S. (2020). The smart city model : A new panacea for urban sustainability or unmanageable complexity?. Environment and Planning B: Urban Analytics and City Science, 47 (1), 179-187. https://doi.org/10.1177/2399808318763164
  • Colding, J. Barthel, S. and K. Samuelsson. 2020. Supporting bottom-up human agency for adapting to climate change. One Earth 3(4):392-395. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.oneear.2020.09.005
  • Gren, Å., Colding, J., Berghauser-Pont, M. & Marcus, L. (2019). How smart is smart growth?: Examining the environmental validation behind city compaction. Ambio, 48 (6), 580-589. https://doi.org/10.1007/s13280-018-1087-y
  • Samuelsson, K., Colding, J. & Barthel, S. (2019). Urban resilience at eye level : spatial analysis of empirically defined experiential landscapes. Landscape and Urban Planning, 187, 70-80. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.landurbplan.2019.03.015
  • Colding, J., Barthel, S. & Sörqvist, P. (2019). Wicked Problems of Smart Cities. Smart Cities, 2 (4), 512-521. 10.3390/smartcities2040031 [Mer information]Colding, J., Gren, Å. & Barthel, S. (2020). The Incremental Demise of Urban Green Spaces. Land, 9 (5). https://doi.org/10.3390/land9050162
  • Rambaree, K., Sjöberg, S. & Turunen, P. (2019). Ecosocial change and community resilience: the case of “Bönan” in glocal transition. Journal of Community Practice, 27 (3-4), 231-248. https://doi.org/10.1080/10705422.2019.1658005
  • Sjöberg, S., Többe-Schukalla, M., Singh, S. & Martinss, K. (2018). Community work in Germany and Sweden in context of changing welfare models. International Social Work, 61 (4), 553-570. https://doi.org/10.1177/0020872816666622
  • Sjöberg, S. & Turunen, P. (red.) (2018). Samhällsarbete : aktörer, arenor och perspektiv. Lund: Studentlitteratur AB.

Program Officers

Anyone interested in research in this field is very welcome to get in touch.

Johan Colding, docent i naturresurshållning. Bygger upp forskningsprogrammet Urban Studio med fokus på hållbar stadsutveckling.

Johan Colding

Professor in sustainability science

E-mail: johan.colding@hig.se
Phone: +46 26 64 50 47

Research presentation Johan Colding

Programledare Stefan Sjöberg

Stefan Sjöberg

Associate professor in social work and Senior Lecturer (PhD) in Sociology

E-mail: stefan.sjoberg@hig.se
Phone: +46 26-64 81 90

Research presentation Stefan Sjöberg

Published by: Camilla Haglund Page responsible: Veronica Liljeroth Updated: 2022-05-25
Högskolan i Gävle
Box 801 76 GÄVLE
026-64 85 00 (växel)