In a report issued on Tuesday, the Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research (WSL) says an online survey of Swiss residents found 72 percent would ideally prefer to reside in a village, with 67 percent giving lower preference to living in a small town.
Only 37 percent wanted to ideally live in the urban area of a city, the poll of 1,200 residents showed.
The general conclusion is that most Swiss residents would prefer a rural life as long as they are connected to urban areas by decent public transport and a good road network, WSL said.
But the research institute said the preference for living in the Swiss countryside is putting strong pressure on rural municipalities in the catchment areas of large cities.
It cited examples of areas less than an hour's drive away from Zurich such as Glarus Nord, the Lake Lucerne valley, the Upper Freiamt in the canton of Aargau and the Linthebene in the Gaster region of the canton of Saint Gallen.
The appeal of these regions threatens to boomerang from overdevelopment and poor planning, WSL researchers said.
“Business as usual” development turns villages into places to sleep for commuters and loss of local activity.
There is also a danger, if investors are given a free hand, of boosting urban sprawl across the country.
WSL's report calls for the development of towns as regional centres with “tightly built settlements, attractive public spaces and a good transport infrastructure”.
Outlying villages, on the other hand should not develop transport infrastructure, with settlements built not in open fields but on the edge of existing settlements, the report said.
Planning is needed to take into account the habitat of animals, plants and species, such as butterflies that need a lot of space, WSL said.
The institute said its planners have developed various guidelines and tools for spatial planners as part of its “space needs of man and nature” research programme.
The group's full 103-page report is available in German here.