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Densifying cities without increased environmental health burden - is it attainable?

Densification can cause air pollution and noise and lead to negative health effects. Densification can also conflict with the availability to green environments and ecosystem services that contribute to temperature regulation, water uptake and recreation.

Car street in a tree alley. Photo.
Car street in a tree alley. Photo.

About the project 

Today most swedes live in cities. Densification of cities is necessary to reduce the housing shortage. To densify a city has many benefits: more housing, more effective transports, and less exploitation of agricultural land.

At the same time there are health risks and challenges connected to the densification. The densification can cause higher levels of air pollutions and noise, which leads to premature deaths and other negative health impact. Densification can also conflict with the availability to green environments and ecosystem services that contribute to temperature regulation, water uptake and recreation.

The goal is to build a city that is dense, but which does not cause increased health and environmental impact. In this challenge, it is an advantage if researchers and the surrounding society work together so that knowledge and practice together can contribute to new issues and solutions.


The purpose of the study is to create evidence-based support in the planning of densely populated areas (housing and infrastructure) in order to achieve a low environmental impact on health.


  1. Making health costs of different housing plans and policies visible with a special focus on environmental injustice (socio-economy, age and gender)
  2. Suggesting new cost-effective, evidence-based and easily attainable pollution reduction strategies, together with stakeholders from municipalities, region, and industry.


In the project, researchers from Malmö, Lund and Gothenburg University collaborate. The research team has a broad expertise from modeling air pollution, noise and heat islands, as well as mapping green environments and counting on health benefits and ecosystem services. In addition, there is social science expertise to understand structural and human factors that enable sustainable and health-promoting urban development.

We will use an already established network of actors engaged in the collaboration network Urban areas and their surrounding in sustainable land use, including regional actors in the physical planning area such as municipalities as well as consultant firms and building companies.

The project is divided into 5 steps:

  1. Meetings with local stakeholders to discuss current challenges and identify appropriate densification projects.
  2. Modeling and measurements to study the environment in the identified areas (e.g. levels of air pollutants and noise) from relevant scenarios. Based on this we calculate health consequences and consequences for ecosystem services. This step also includes analysis of plans and documents supplemented by interviews with stakeholders. 
  3. Meetings with local stakeholders and discussion around densification strategies.
  4. Health and environmental benefits are calculated in the identified densification strategies.
  5. The results of the study will be disseminated both as information material, as research publications and through a concluding seminar.


Densification has many benefits: more housing, reduced transport distances and reduced exploitation of agricultural land. But densification can also lead to increased health costs since more people live in areas with high levels of air pollutions and noise and green areas decrease.

Contact information and participants

Project manager:

Ebba Malmkvist

Project partners:

Johanna Alkan Olsson, Christina Isaxon, Ebba Lisberg Jensen, Anna Oudin, Pontus Roldin, Kristoffer Mattisson

Contact information CEC:

johanna [dot] alkan_olsson [at] cec [dot] lu [dot] se

Project information

Start date: 2018-01-01
End date: 2021-06-30


Funding: Formas