This week end, the Swiss population accepted among others the new land use law. The new law aims at limiting urban sprawl by freezing the amount of development areas for the next twenty years. The basic principle behind it is to limit the areas that are converted from agricultural land into urban land, but increasing the density within the urban areas.
Indeed, in Switzerland, local zoning plan define how densely a certain area can be build by fixing the percentage of square meter a construction is allowed to cover, as well as a maximum volume that can be built on a plot. Sometimes also the maximum of floors are fixed. On paper it is relatively easy to change these values and allow new and bigger constructions.
See the a short history of urbanization of Switzerland (by Swiss TV in German)
But is it really so easy? if the intensification does not take place, then Switzerland will be lacking in housing capacity and the already high rents might go up. I am now living near to one of these areas where the intensification potential is already there. Some investor bought villas with big gardens, and wanted to build more intense, with flats. This is exactly what the new land use law is expecting. But the project never took place, because the population stood up and wanted to keep the historical picture of the town... so the success of this law will depend on our capacity to let old constructions go and get more modern buildings.
The most interesting part of the new law is its new financial tools coming with it. A new tax will be perceived on land that has been reclassified from agricultural land to urban. This allows to raise money for developing infrastructure in rural areas and landscape (or paying out the people for the plots that would be reassigned from urban to agriculture). A great financial tool that was already discussed a lot in the Netherlands during my PhD time.
I am looking forward to see how this law will be implemented!