Evolution

    Settlements and urban areas

    While green spaces in settlements may be plentiful, they are often manicured and uniform, like on this housing estate, and provide little habitat for native plants and animals. © Marcel Burkhardt

    Settlements are among the fastest growing types of land use in Switzerland. Built-up space expanded by almost one quarter between 1985 and 2009, outpacing population growth. Residential areas and leisure facilities in particular showed a strong increase. The spread of settlements appears to have slowed somewhat in recent years.

    Based on the 2004–2009 land-use statistics, settlements and urban areas cover an area of approximately 3079 km2. This corresponds to 7.5 % of the surface area of Switzerland, or an area about twice the size of the Canton of Lucerne. Besides buildings, settlement areas include all types of sealed surfaces, meaning asphalt or other artificial surfaces that do not allow water to filter into the ground. Settlements also include unsealed areas that serve residential or transportation purposes, such as private gardens, parks, sports and recreation facilities, green spaces next to transport infrastructure, and motorway embankments.

    Half of the settlement area is covered by buildings. Transport accounts for almost one third of the area, or about 1000 km2. The remaining space is taken up by industrial and commercial areas (7.8 %), recreational areas and cemeteries (6.4 %,) and special urban areas (5.5 %); these include, for example, gravel pits and quarries, dumps, and building sites. On the Central Plateau, settlements cover 16 % of the surface area, more than twice the national average. Sealed surfaces make up 62 % of the total settlement area. The area of unused industrial and commercial spaces, so-called industrial wasteland, was estimated at 18 km2 in 2008. This corresponds to an area greater than the city of Geneva.

    Growth at the expense of agricultural land

    Between 1985 and 2009, settlements grew by 584 km2, or 23.4 %. This corresponds to an area larger than Lake Murten every year. The rate of growth has slowed somewhat in the past three decades. Averaging 1.1 % per year between 1982 and 1994, or 0.86 m2/s, it was down to 0.8 % per year, or 0.69 m2/s, between 1994 and 2006. The latest land-use statistics show an annual increase in settlements in western Switzerland of 0.7 % between 2006 and 2015. Of the new settlement areas, 89 % were built on agricultural land and 9 % on wooded land.

    Settlements increased in all cantons with growth ranging from 14 % (Canton of Schaffhausen) to 40 % (Canton of Appenzell Innerrhoden). The Canton of Basel-Stadt was an exception, with settlement area remaining almost constant (plus 1.3 %).

    The spread of settlements destroys natural habitats: compared to the agricultural zones, the building zones of nine municipalities in the Canton of Basel-Landschaft contain six times more trees, 21 times more point features (e.g. bushes, stone piles), 30 times more linear features (e.g. hedges, ditches, herb fringes) and 2.5 times more area features (e.g. ruderal areas, copses). All these elements are lost when the space is built up.

    Distribution of settlement areas according to the 2004–2009 land-use statistics.

    © Arealstatistik – Bundesamt für Statistik (BFS) & Amt für Bau und Infrastruktur Liechtenstein.

    Change in settlement area between 1979–1985 and 2004–2009 in ha. Changes are represented at a grid resolution of 1 × 1 km.

    © Arealstatistik – Bundesamt für Statistik (BFS) & Amt für Bau und Infrastruktur Liechtenstein.

    Growth of settlements exceeds population growth

    The increase in settlement area is related to population growth. Between 1995 and 2016 the number of inhabitants in Switzerland increased from 7 to 8.4 million, or by 17.5 %. However, settlement area has increased even more steeply than the population. In 2009, every inhabitant occupied 20 m2 more settlement area on average than in 1985. Overall, settlement area per inhabitant corresponds to the size of two tennis courts (407 m2). Residential areas (area used for residential buildings and the surrounding space, not including agricultural buildings) grew by as much as 44.1 % between 1985 and 2009, which is two-and-a-half times the increase in population. The Canton of Basel-Stadt has the smallest settlement area per inhabitant (about 130 m2), while the largest are found in the rural cantons of Jura, Valais and Grisons (630–820 m2).

    Settlement area is divided into five categories; the largest part is taken up by buildings and transport infrastructure. Settlement area expanded by 20 m2 per person between 1979–1985 and 2004-2009.

    © Bundesamt für Statistik (2013a).

    Buildings and golf courses show the greatest increase

    The largest share of new settlement areas between 1985 und 2009 is taken up by buildings (368 km2, or 63.4 %) and transport areas (128 km2, or 21.9 %). However, the greatest percentage change occurred in recreational areas and cemeteries (+37.5 %). Buildings and industrial and commercial areas increased by 32.2 % each, transport areas by 15.5 %. In contrast, the category «special urban areas» declined by 13.2 % due to the decrease in building sites and the restoration of gravel pits.

    In the category recreational areas and cemeteries, public parks and sports facilities account for the largest part of the increase. Cemeteries and camping sites only increased marginally. Allotments are the only type of recreational space that shrank in area, mainly in favour of buildings and roads. The proportion of semi-natural gardens in settlements is low, fluctuating between 7 und 20 % in Binningen BL, for example, depending on the neighbourhood. Golf courses experienced the largest increase by far (280 %). More than 80 % of this growth occurred between 1997 and 2009.

    In the case of industrial and commercial areas, a shift was recorded away from cities to agglomerations and locations near motorway junctions and railway lines. 71 % of these new areas were built on agricultural land.

    At almost 40 %, recreational areas and cemeteries saw the largest growth between 1985 and 2009 (mainly golf courses). The increase in transport areas, buildings as well as industrial and commercial areas slowed down in the second period between 1997 and 2009. Special urban areas, which include gravel pits and quarries, dumps and building sites, were the only category to shrink in size.

    © Bundesamt für Statistik (2015a).

    Transport areas and fragmentation of the landscape

    About a third of settlement space is taken up by transport infrastructure. The Swiss road network (national, cantonal and municipal roads) totals more than 71 500 km (not all municipal roads are included). The length of motorways increased from 1200 km in 1996 to 1447 km in 2016. However, the largest expansion of national roads occurred prior to 1985.

    Switzerland has one of the densest road networks in Europe, with 1.7 km of roads per km2 (excluding private roads). The spaces between roads, settlements and other artificial barriers are described in terms of mesh size; smaller roads (classes 3 and 4) were not included in the calculation. While mesh size was 10 km2 on the Central Plateau in 1980, it was down to 8 km2 in 2007, or 20 % smaller. Mountain regions tend to have considerably more space between artificial barriers. In the Jura, these spaces are 7.5 times larger, in the Alps they are 56–71 times larger than on the Central Plateau. But road construction is increasing in the mountains as well. The change was most pronounced in the Jura, where mesh size decreased by 14.8 % between 1980 and 2007; in the Alps, it decreased by 1.5–4.5 %.

    Transport infrastructure such as motorways account for almost a third of settlement area.

    © Roman Graf

    Future growth of settlements

    Settlements will continue to spread in Switzerland in the future. The latest land-use statistics for 2013–2018 show that settlement growth in western Switzerland has slowed only slightly. The increase in buildings, industrial areas and transport areas is also a consequence of economic growth. The need for more living space per person, the rising population and growing mobility will continue to drive the spread of settlements in the future. Scenarios for population growth project a slight deceleration. By the year 2045, the total population is expected to reach between 9 and 11 million people. The greatest potential for slowing down the expansion of settlements lies in the use of empty buildings and in increasing the density of buildings in existing areas. However, it is important to ensure that semi-natural green spaces are preserved despite the process of densification. According to estimates, 18 % of settlement area should consist of semi-natural green spaces to preserve biodiversity and ecosystem services in settlements. In addition, settlements should also have 13 trees or other types of woody vegetation per square kilometre and several small, unsealed surfaces. The proportion of ruderal areas in settlements should be at least doubled.

    Schematic representation of the effective mesh size as a measure of landscape fragmentation in Switzerland's biogeographical regions in 2007. Mesh size is smallest on the Central Plateau (8 km2) and largest in the southern Alps (595 km2).

    © modifiziert nach Jaeger et al.

    Text: Dominik Hagist

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