New Urbanism and Contextual Relativity: Insights from Sweden

Open Access Journal | ISSN: 2183-7635

Article | Open Access

New Urbanism and Contextual Relativity: Insights from Sweden


  • Crystal Filep Urban Design Office, Wellington City Council, New Zealand
  • Michelle Thompson-Fawcett Te Iho Whenua School of Geography, University of Otago, New Zealand


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Abstract:  Contextual relativities in the diversifying expression of New Urbanism are increasingly important. In this article, we explore the significance of context using a Scandinavian setting as example. We examine two embodiments of the Swedish realisation of New Urban neighbourhoods. Important in our exploration are the relationalities with contemporary contexts and belief systems, since every effort to create space becomes “an elaboration of the beliefs and values of some collection of people, expressed and fostered in their promotion of a preferred reality” (Stokowski, 2002, p. 374). The findings from the study demonstrate that the Swedish New Urban neighbourhood—no matter how meaningful as a communicative form mediating between agents and structures—cannot effect social cohesion or isolation. Rather, form communicates or evokes meaning in a variety of complex ways, suggesting the importance of “look[ing] to multiply…our readings of the city” (Leach, 1997, p. 158), particularly high-level readings that echo notions of the common good. Those concerned with New Urbanism’s embodiments should deliberate on relational fluidities and thereby strike a balance between conceptualising such urban design as either deterministically exceeding its power (Lawhon, 2009) or as side-lined to the whimsical relativity of particular consumers (Latham, 2003; Smith, 2002).

Keywords:  compact neighbourhoods; good community; neighbourhood planning; New Urbanism; Sweden

Published:   22 December 2020


DOI: https://doi.org/10.17645/up.v5i4.3514


© Crystal Filep, Michelle Thompson-Fawcett. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0), which permits any use, distribution, and reproduction of the work without further permission provided the original author(s) and source are credited.