In striving for sustainability, urban policy and planning increasingly emphasize proximity ideals in order to go beyond established mobility- and speed-oriented accessibility strategies. Yet proximity is a fluid concept with many contextualized meanings, cutting across most sectors of urban planning. When proximity is realized in actual planning, clarity and communicability are therefore required. Here we explored how urban planners in different fields of expertise understand and apply the proximity concept. Furthermore, we tested a collaborative tool enabling transparent discussion and fostering a joint basis for further application. Qualitative data were collected via six semi-structured, focus-group workshops with 35 planners of various competencies working in three western Swedish municipalities. The results indicated that planning goals of proximity were negotiated according to three understandings: One derived from the established understanding of transportation and land-use integration, relying on planners’ expert views; a second emphasizing the local community understanding, highlighting the social context of neighborhoods; and a third comprising the personal environment understanding of the individual’s closest physical space at a detailed scale level. Collaborative exercises resulted in the development of a communicative tool for negotiating perceived understandings of proximity, as well as planning goals.
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