IKEA and small city development in Sweden: Planning myths, realities and unsustainable mobilities

Publisher's full text

This article analyses how urban authorities manage goals of sustainable development in decentralized planning contexts when faced with economic growth opportunities offered by a powerful development actor. This challenge is described and analysed in a comparative case study of how two Swedish cities handled the issue of new IKEA stores in decision-making and planning. The analysis centres on how power relations affected planning and decision-making, and is complemented by an evaluation of the choices and actions of the two municipalities in sustainable mobility terms, and an indication of the potential environmental consequences of the decisions.

The results show how the two municipalities locked their cities into car-dependent development paths by accepting IKEA's retail concept, due to perceived fierce competition for retail trade between neighbouring cities, and a belief that IKEA development would boost economic growth. The municipalities conducted considerable parts of the planning processes under secrecy, which constrained criticism of the IKEA developments, and left environmental and traffic impacts not fully assessed or debated. The cases show how, while attempting to put in place strategies for sustainable urban development, the municipalities handled difficult choices in ways which compromised their own and wider environmental goals for economic gains.

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