What happens to our towns and cities?

Surround is a research project on conditions for sustainable urbanisation, based on studies of small and medium sized urban settlements in Norway. The full project title is ‘Sustainable urbanisation requirements of small and medium-sized urban settlements and their surroundings’. We are mapping changes in land-use in four municipalities over a period of 30 years and analyze drivers behind the changes. The project is funded by the Research Council of Norway (MILJØFORSK) and is led by Western Norway Research Institute.

 The city of Horten is one of the four case areas studied in Surround. This picture shows a traditional residental area, Keisemark, which is known for its spacious gardens. How should these neighbourhoods be managed in times of urban compaction? Photo: Inger Auestad


Urbanisation is one of the most visible features of the age in which we live, and in Norway 81 per cent of the population live in urban settlements. Urbanisation has consequences for the environment as well as society - not only in the cities, but also in their semi-urban and rural surroundings. Surround aims to build knowledge on how urbanisation affects environmental and cultural history assets in and around small and medium-sized urban areas. The project also sheds light on the driving forces that influence these processes, and thus provides a deeper understanding of the various conditions that contribute to sustainable urbanisation.

For a long time, urbanisation was characterised by cities expanding into their surroundings in a poorly-planned manner, resulting in unnecessarily space-demanding settlements. During the 1980s, urban compaction was introduced as a strategy to counteract undesirable consequences of urban sprawl. In Norway the principle of densification was introduced i.a. through the research project ‘Nature and Environmentally Friendly Urban Development’ (NAMIT), which ran from 1988 to 1992. A number of sustainability indicators were applied to examine the municipalities of Trondheim/Malvik, Sogndal, and Horten. The main idea of Surround is to use these data as a basis of comparison in order to analyse processes that have taken place in the last three decades.

Map of Norway displaying the three case areas: Trondheim (east) and Malvik, Sogndal, and Horten.

Map of Norway displaying the three case areas: Trondheim (east) and Malvik, Sogndal, and Horten.

Analyses of change in the four so-called ‘NAMIT municipalities’ will be based on case studies in the fields of landscape ecology, cultural heritage and governance theory (i.e. theories on public steering in cooperation with business and civil society). The various researchers taking part in Surround will cover topics such as biodiversity, landscape quality, access to recreational areas, and the historic urban landscape. Mapping of planning processes and attitudes towards these, will provide insight into driving forces that may explain how environmental and cultural history assets have been managed.

Findings from Surround will be disseminated both in scientific and popular form, in addition to providing new input to bachelor and master programmes.