Federation for
Housing and

Social Sustainability in Cities: Concept and Opportunities

Research shows that Danish municipalities have a less structured approach to social sustainability than to environmental and economic sustainability. However, there is an interest to participate in the development of a new tool to change the imbalance.
This article is a summary of Anette Galskjøt’s report Social Sustainability in Cities – Concept and Opportunities, February 2018. The report has not yet been graded.

Over the past six months, IFHP has researched the state of social sustainability in 11 Danish municipalities and examined existing indexes on social sustainability. The research was part of Anette Galskjøt, IFHP CEO’s executive MSc. at LSE Cities.

The research was conducted with the aim of investigating if there is a market for a new tool to measure social sustainability.

The hypothesis driving the research was that “Looking at social sustainability interventions in cities in a more holistic and cross-departmental way may provide an opportunity to harvest synergies that are not reaped today. If this is indeed the case, cities could get more value for their publicly collected money (tax) from their social initiatives, if they were willing and able to tackle such initiatives in a different way” (Galskjøt, 2018).
To examine the above hypothesis, two questions were posed. First, what kind of indices have been developed in respect of social sustainability? And second, do cities have an interest in a new social sustainability index?


Existing indices

The first research question was answered partly by desk-top research of 51 indices and partly by interviews with leading city experts. The aim was to identify the existence of any indices only focusing on social sustainability.
Our research on the first question concludes that social sustainability is dealt with more fragmented than is the case for environmental and economic sustainability and that only a couple of initiatives and indices exist that focus solely on social sustainability.

Of the 51 indices examined, almost all of them include both social, economic and environmental indicators. But only 2 of the 51 indices focus solely on the social aspects of the city. Another general perception derived, is that most of the indices measure the city from an outside perspective using publicly available data and not for example qualitative interviews with citizens.


Interest from municipalities

The second research question set out to identify whether there is an appetite amongst Danish municipalities for a new city index focusing on social sustainability.

11 Danish municipalities – chosen to represent Denmark in respect of size and population - answered a qualitative, cross-sectional questionnaire. The questionnaires were supplemented by a dialogue meeting between the IFHP and three participating municipalities, Aarhus, Aalborg and Gladsaxe, on 24th January 2018.

Results show that less than half of the municipalities have a structured approach to measuring sustainability and especially social sustainability. Only three municipalities confirm that they work actively with social sustainability.
From the answers it may be derived that the concept of social sustainability is less clear to the municipalities than that of economic and environmental sustainability. However, there is a willingness to work on this. The report concludes that there is an initial interest from most of the 11 municipalities to participate in the development of a new tool.
It seems to be a common understanding that working cross-sectoral in the social area is difficult due to the complexity of the social initiatives. However, two municipalities also mentioned at the dialogue meeting that there could be budgetary reasons for why social initiatives do not cut across more. Namely, that the different departments in the municipality all compete for the same budgets. Therefore, a tool to mitigate this potential conflict and promote potential co-benefits between projects would be interesting in the opinion of the three municipalities present at the dialogue meeting.


Social Cities: Developing the missing tool

IFHP’s new Social Cities programme aims to fill the gap by developing a tool to measure social sustainability across sectors and social parameters. This may lead to harvesting synergies that are not reaped today.
The tool will focus only on social indicators and will include qualitative “inside” data from citizens as well as the available public data – something which does not exist today according to our research.

We are developing the tool in close cooperation with our partners Realdania, LSE Cities, Ramboll, Implement, Gehl Institute and 10 Danish municipalities.

Learn more about Social Cities on our Social Cities website


Galskjøt, Anette:” Social Sustainability in Cities – Concept and Opportunities”: LSE Cities: London, February 2018.