The implementation of urban densification: A spatial-temporal analysis of local densification projects in Swiss cities


  • David Kaufmann ETH Zürich
  • Gabriela Debrunner
  • Michael Wicki


urban planning, densification projects, voting behavior analysis




Spatial planning is context sensitive because development projects are tailored to the distinct place and time. This research investigates the content and trends of real densification proposals in Swiss cities over time and space. It rests on an extensive data collection effort to create a novel dataset consisting of around 1500 local densification ballots in all of the 162 Swiss cities from 2008 to 2020. We utilized diverse sources like official ballot booklets, municipal documents, and newspaper archives and categorized them according to a strict coding system that includes information such as the type of infrastructure, the cost of the project, involved actors, the type of planning instruments, or the degree of participation.

This extensive dataset allows us to examine how and whether the spatial planning (projects) have changed over time and space in the context of urban densification. We engage in three types of analyses. First, we will conduct a temporal analysis. Our time frame includes observations before and after 2013 which marks the revision of the Swiss Federal Planning Act that mandates the densification of urban areas. This allows us to analyze whether the densification paradigm has manifested itself in concrete densification projects. Second, we compare densification patterns in different urban settlement types because polycentric and multilingual Switzerland offers a rich diversity of cities, ranging from small towns to regional centers, agglomeration municipalities, and big cities. We can also observe interesting regional differences that may stem from variations in political systems and cultures, economic and demographic growth dynamics, or resources dedicated to spatial planning. And third, we can analyze variations in public support for densification projects across different Swiss cities and see what characteristics of a densification project are more likely to enhance public support for densification.

Overall, this paper allows us to get a novel and very comprehensive understanding of spatial planning through an analysis of actual existing densification proposals. Therefore, this analysis brings us a bit closer to a systematic analysis and evaluation of spatial planning and densification implementation. The findings have implications beyond the Swiss context, offering insights for urban development and densification strategies, how they change over time and space, and how densification can be implemented with public support.