Town Planning Review

The business of densification: distribution of power, wealth and inequality in Swiss policy making

Town Planning Review (2020), 91, (3), 259–281.


In Switzerland, the fight against uncontrolled urban sprawl and the protection of agricultural land have a long tradition. To reconcile these concerns, the Swiss voting majority agreed to introduce densification as a legally binding policy objective in 2013. Simultaneously, however, densification processes have started to threaten the housing situation of low- and middle-income tenants due to higher rents following redevelopment. In this article, we argue that the Swiss way of implementing densification is characterised by a systematic bypassing of tenants’ needs for social sustainability in housing due to the current political priorities of the Swiss federal government. Using an institutionalist analysis approach and a qualitative case-study methodology, we analyse the institutional mechanisms and the actors’ rationale behind this emerging business of densification. Finally, we discuss the role of the nation state in the provision of the ‘right to housing’ for all income segments and its consequences for the country’s long-term sustainability performance.

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Author details

Debrunner, Gabriela

Hengstermann, Andreas

Gerber, Jean-David