The ‘small urbanisation’ phenomenon underlies migration within the city and immigration to it

MDI carried out a study on ‘Small urbanisation’ for the Regional City Network which examined demographic development and the dynamics of demographic formation in 56 regional cities and within a regional city. The analysis was based on an analysis of Statistics Finland’s statistical data and the classification of different areas of municipalities on the basis of the urban nature of the area. Regional cities are a group of 56 cities of very different sizes, connected by their position as a local centre.

Savonlinna is one of the regional cities. Photo: Aleksi Koivisto

Demographic trends and urbanisation in the 2010s have seen population decline in most regional cities. The migration of young people to bigger cities in particular, in pursuit of education, but also work, combined with an older population and a reduced birth rate, has challenged the demographic development of many regional cities.

A broader examination of the demographic development of regional cities in the 2010s and the background to demographic development however reveals a more diverse picture in respect of the development of regional cities. In the 2010s, inside the group of regional cities there were both growing, stable, shrinking and strongly shrinking cities, with the development in each group based on the influence of different elements of demographic development.

An examination of demographic trends within suburban areas revealed the primary phenomenon behind the megatrend of wider urbanisation, namely, ‘small urbanisation’ which refers to the urbanisation or concentration into population centres of regional cities; where the demographic importance of the core areas of regional cities is emphasised. According to the study, in 50 out of 56 regional cities, population development in the centre was stronger than in the rest of the city. Similarly, a few shrinking regional cities still had a growing downtown area. The small urbanisation of regional cities is explained primarily by migration within the municipality and migration from abroad. On the other hand, the study found that rural areas in particular, unlike population centres, benefit from migration gains from migrants over the age of 25.

The results of the study offer new perspectives on, for example, construction and housing solutions and their requirements in respect of regional cities. More broadly, the study diversifies the picture of the role of regional cities in urbanising Finland and also presents a number of new perspectives on the challenges and opportunities for the future development of regional cities.

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