“The LAT 1 was ahead of its time”

TRACKS: Ten years after the entry into force of LAT 1, what conclusions can we draw from it? Has it had an impact on the way we develop the territory? Were there any obstacles to its implementation?

Damian Jerjen: The paradigm shift introduced by LAT 1 had generated fears: we would no longer be able to build, the construction industry would decline, etc. Even today, faced with the threat of a housing shortage, many voices are being raised to stigmatize land use planning and call for deregulation. In response to this type of argument, we have always wanted to recall that the main objective of the LAT, when it came into force in 1979, was to reinforce the primordial principle of distinction between areas to be built and those which are not. LAT 1 has effectively introduced an important paradigm shift because, to avoid urban sprawl, it is necessary to develop inwards; new construction zones will now be the exception. Some cantons like Valais even have to reduce their zones. We are therefore faced with high complexity.

That’s for the restrictive aspect, but what positive effects?

Beyond these fears, we have observed several positive effects over the last ten years. Firstly, an increase in awareness of the importance of inward development. Citizens have measured the added value and accepted it, provided that there is quality, which is not always the case. We must increase the existing quality, but also repair the deficits in the buildings.

For ten years, we have also noticed greater sensitivity around this notion, whether it concerns the quality of urbanization, architectural or landscape quality. This is a big step forward made possible by LAT 1.

Strategic thinking has also gained in importance. LAT 1 obliges all cantons to develop a “territorial project”, which defines their development strategy, which was not the case previously. In most cantons, the law also requires that municipalities, before revising their land use plan, think at a strategic level and develop an “overall concept”, a “municipal master plan”. The terminologies vary but the idea remains the same: to reflect strategic.

The last strong point of LAT 1, in my opinion, is participation. Before, it often consisted of municipalities presenting their projects to the primary assembly, but that is no longer enough today. A circle of actors, as wide as possible, must be involved upstream so that a dialogue can take place.

Did we really have to wait for the revision of the LAT to see these notions of strategy, quality and participation emerge?

No, all these notions were already present, but not throughout the territory. LAT 1 has not fundamentally changed things in large cities for example, which have always developed inwards, quite simply because they did not have enough room to expand. So they already had this experience.

LAT 1 extended these principles to all municipalities, even if some did nothing, or were mainly concerned with not having to rezone, or only at a minimum, before asking the question of quality. But if they want to continue to move forward, they will have to go through strategic reflections and aim for the quality imposed by LAT 1. Including rural and tourist communities, which have problems with the vitality of centers, second homes, etc.

LAT 1 marks the end of major construction projects from scratch. But urbanizing areas already built to continue to accommodate growth introduces new complexities and involves completely reviewing the way we plan and project. Are all municipalities equipped to cope?

The good news is that we have enough space in Switzerland without new zones. A study by Wüest Partner1 highlighted a potential for accommodating more than a million inhabitants in the still unbuilt building zones and around 1.5 million in the already built building zones. So there is room, but it is true that the complexity is increasing: we must develop more and more in what is already constructed. This is not new, we already have feedback from the previous ten years and we know the key success factors for inward development. Thanks to our analyzes of good examples2, today we can say what the “good” ingredients are. Interdisciplinarity is the key: the architect, the planner, the town planner or the investor cannot solve everything alone. They need biologists, mobility engineers, hydrological engineers, and even climate change specialists.

More flexibility is also needed: major planning takes time, often more than ten years for urban projects, as we have seen for the Vergers eco-district in Meyrin (GE). In this interval, the framework may evolve and it should be possible to adapt what has been planned. Europaallee in Zurich was imagined before 2010: today, we would no longer have these large tarmac squares, for example.

Instead of inventing new instruments, let’s continue with the ones we have and know, but allow a little flexibility to allow for the experimentation we will increasingly need in the future.

We actually have the feeling that planning is often “behind” in relation to social and environmental concerns which evolve very quickly.

I am optimistic. Instead of saying “we are late”, I prefer to say that we have always had the necessary instruments and tools, but that we have not used them wisely. The LAT 1 was actually ahead of its time. A district designed according to its principles – quality inward development, strengthening of biodiversity, quality landscape, mix of uses, etc. – is a district resilient to climate change. For too long, we were not aware that there was an emergency and we continued as before because it was simpler to build as we had always done. Now the urgency is there, we have to build in already built areas, renovate, transform, raise, which is more complex and difficult.

How can we explain that LAT 1, which you consider to be a good tool, does not attract more support and is so difficult to implement in certain territories?

It’s a question of society and awareness. Today, the economic subject is very present, like that of property. In the future, this perspective will also have to change. Municipalities will have to take a little more control of their destiny by implementing active policies in terms of affordable housing or measures against the hoarding of plots. In our market system, the economy comes first, but the new challenges call for a paradigm shift, a transformation towards another system, which we call “strong sustainability”. Sustainability rests on three pillars: economic, social and environmental, but now we must prioritize the environment. For me, the Cross-border Territorial Vision 2050 of Greater Geneva (see our columns in TRACKS since January 2023), which places the “basis of life” as the basis of all planning, is an excellent example of the direction to follow. Because if we don’t do it, we will be forced to do it. In weighing interests, positing this basis of life as primacy gives much more weight to decisions and planning. The fight against global warming tends to focus on reducing CO emissions2, which is only one side of the coin. We must also preserve nature and ecosystems.

These strategic visions are generally discussed in circles where everyone is more or less in agreement, but they struggle to “descend” to the local level where they can encounter opposition from elected officials, the economic world or citizens.

The problem perhaps also comes from our binary democratic system, which only allows you to be “for” or “against”. With 51% of the votes, one side wins and all the others lose. I’m not sure this is the best way to respond to the challenges. The development of quality living spaces will rather go through a sort of co-creation, and, for this, the strategic vision is important: expressing what we want for the future of our territory then finding ways to get there and solutions. compromise. Today, for example, we, planners, do not listen enough to developers and builders, when we should get closer to these players, and vice versa, to create quality living spaces.

Do municipalities have the desire, and above all the means, to implement the strategic visions defined at the federal and cantonal level?

This is one of the lessons we learned from LAT 1: small municipalities can come together and think about implementing these objectives in a functional space3 and not just within their institutional boundaries. They would then have many more opportunities and resources. But, here again, this is a paradigm shift because Switzerland cultivates municipal autonomy in terms of territorial planning.

However, there are examples to follow, such as the 2024 Wakker Prize awarded to the Birsstadt association4ten municipalities and two cantons which worked together, in a context of strong pressure, on urbanization and artisanal areas to enhance the landscape and built heritage.

For me, municipalities must take their destiny into their own hands and move forward, acting rather than reacting. They have everything to gain from it. But making decisions that are not unanimous requires a lot of courage. Yet it is possible. Several good examples prove this.

To conclude on the positive results of LAT 1, I would insist on interdisciplinarity and participation. LAT 1 encourages us to work in close collaboration with other fields of expertise, those of landscape architects or hydrological engineers for the sponge city, for example, and to involve the population. It’s about co-creating. In my opinion, this is the only way to respond to current issues.


When the revised LAT comes into force on 1er May 2014, the cantons had five years to adapt their master plans. Since October 2022, all cantons have had guiding plans corresponding to the new provisions. From now on, municipal allocation plans must be brought into compliance with these revised master plans; this compliance is still in progress in most municipalities.

Between them, these different instruments do not maintain hierarchical relationships, but evolve in dynamic interaction with each other according to the counter-current principle. Each plan must therefore take into account existing plans at different state levels.


1 Immo-Monitoring 2023, p. 66, Wüest Partner

2 See the densipedia.ch site developed by Espacesuisse, which lists good examples of inward development.

3 Territory within which two or more localities or regions maintain close social, economic and cultural relations (urban areas, intermunicipalities, mixed unions, etc.)

4 The association is made up of nine municipalities in Basel-Landschaft (Aesch, Arlesheim, Birsfelden, Duggingen, Grellingen, Muttenz, Münchenstein, Pfeffingen and Reinach) and one municipality in Solothurn (Dornach). The desire to collaborate is made concrete by the financing of the Verein Birsstadt by the municipalities and its committee made up of mayors. General strategies in the areas of landscape, housing, mobility and adaptation to climate change are processed and developed within the association, which defends them externally. Regular exchanges make it possible to strengthen the transfer of knowledge between municipalities (patrimoinesuisse.ch).



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