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Nordregio celebrates its 25th anniversary

On 15 June, Nordregio gathered the Nordic family and friends from the world of urban planning and regional development to celebrate its 25th Anniversary. More than 100 guests were happy to meet physically and mingle in sunny Hörsalen, Nordregio’s classical meeting hall. The feeling of revival post-Covid was very present as we listened to greetings from Swedish Ministers for Regional development and Nordic collaboration, encouraging us to keep up our work for more research-based policymaking and Nordic knowledge exchange. Filmed on tour by bike, Nordic Council of Ministers’ Secretary-General Paula Lehtomäki emphasized our important role in researching solutions for a more effective and just green transition in line with the Nordic Vision 2030. Live speakers included Katarina Fellman, board member and Director of Åsub/Statistics Åland, and three of our Senior Research Fellows (Mats Stjernberg, Anna Lundgren and Elin Slätmo) looking back to 1997 and gazing into the future of regional studies – urban and rural. This was followed by a very interactive map quiz session hosted by our Head of GIS, Thomas Jensen. Clearly, the world has changed quite a bit since 1997. Katarina Fellman recalled some hard work done to deliver the new institute in parallel with her first baby and said that growth and development had been impressive with both parties. Nordregio has moved from a limited team focusing on spatial planning systems and regional governance to a full house of 48 employees, covering all aspects of sustainable regional development and planning: green transition, social and digital inclusion, and economic competitiveness. Skills provision and green value creation in rural regions are emerging topics, as well as digital solutions for healthcare and care. At the same time, our urban areas strive to be healthier and more inclusive. Future solutions must be green, smart, and place-based, continuously developed in dialogue…

Decade of action: Localising the global goals in the Nordic countries and beyond

In early June, Nordregio co-hosted two high-level dialogue meetings organised by UNECE as part of Helsingborg’s H22 Sustainable City Expo. These sessions focused on accelerating local SDG action through Voluntary Local Reviews as well as raising awareness and broadening public engagement for social and environment sustainability. A range of cities across the world provided their practical learnings, from Lviv, Ukraine, to Gladsaxe, Denmark, as well as Cordoba, Argentina, and Tallinn, Estonia, among others. These places could report that one of the key take-aways to progress is peer-to-peer learning. The dialogue meetings were followed by a workshop called “Successfully implementing Agenda 2030” at the Urban Future Conference, also held in Helsingborg. It has been widely stated that two-thirds of the SDG targets require local implementation to make a difference for people and planet. But translating the 17 goals into local contexts and steering tools while engaging citizens and measuring progress is easier said than done. During the engaging workshop, participants gained hands-on experience from the cities of Espoo and Helsingborg. These two Nordic frontrunners shared their efforts on how to set local targets and use the SDG framework to improve the quality of life for the local communities.   National level knowledge exchange kicks off in Copenhagen On 8 June, Nordic Council of Ministers and Nordregio hosted a Nordic knowledge sharing event on national and local implementation of the 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Participants included members of the Nordic Expert Group for Sustainable Development and representatives from the Nordic municipal and regional associations. The purpose of the workshop was to explore how the strategic collaboration between national and local actors responsible for Agenda 2030 implementation could be strengthened within and across the Nordic countries. The event included a brainstorming session to co-create ideas based on shared Nordic…

Maps from the State of the Nordic Region at the 22nd Nordic Demographic Symposium

Dr. Timothy Heleniak, Senior Research Fellow at Nordregio, will participate in the 22nd Nordic Demographic Symposium in Norway to present the State of the Nordic Region 2022 report. The overall topic of the conference is Covid-19 demography. The scientific program of the Symposium demonstrates the generally relevant, multidisciplinary nature of demography and brings together a wide range of cutting-edge research on fertility, mortality, and migration, with links to broader socio-economic and health dynamics. “In the Symposium, I will be presenting a poster based on the State of the Nordic Region 2022, which focused on the impacts of Covid-19. I hope to bring a spatial perspective that is often lacking in demography,” says Heleniak. The poster features nine maps highlighting findings from the State of the Nordic Region 2022. The Nordic Demographic Symposium is the meeting of demographers, social scientists, and students in the population from the Nordic Region. It was initially planned to be held in June 2021 but had to be postponed a year due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Read more about the event here. Read the State of the Nordic Region 2022 report here.

How developments on agricultural land are threatening food self-sufficiency: Nordregio researcher on the radio

Dr. Elin Slätmo, Senior Research Fellow at Nordregio, participated in the Swedish radio program to talk about soil sealing and how new developments on agricultural land are a threat to food self-sufficiency. What can be done to avoid this? ”As humans, we have located ourselves close to the water and good soils for food production. This means that when cities expand, they tend to do that on fertile soils. Sweden has legislation to hinder housing on agricultural land, but it still constantly happens that municipalities decide to allow for building on agricultural lands, as other land uses tend to be prioritized in spatial planning. From the logic of the housing developers, soils are attractive to build houses on compared to, for instance, old industrial grounds, as it is usually only one owner to negotiate with, the land is flat and not contaminated,” says Dr. Slätmo. According to the researcher, there are several solutions that municipal and regional planners can work with: plan and develop compact and higher cities, develop them on already hard surfaces such as parking lots or old industrial grounds. It is also important to clearly motivate the decisions for housing locations, so they can be assessed with long-term perspectives. Dr. Slätmo says that we need to raise the awareness that it takes around 1000 years to create good soil and that it is the fundament for food production. Listen to the radio program in Swedish here.

Nordregio Researcher on the Swedish Science Radio: How to protect our seas

How can marine protected area establishment be promoted to support the fulfillment of the Swedish “30 by 30″ ambition to protect marine biodiversity? Why is there only one marine national park so far, even if 30 years ago several areas were proposed? How can the conflicts that often arise against nature protection be addressed in a constructive way? These are the questions that Dr. Andrea Morf, Senior Research Fellow at Nordregio and scientific coordinator at the Swedish Institute for the Marine Environment, has analysed. The researcher discussed these issues and possibilities on the Swedish Science Radio and with local fishers of the Co-Management Initiative Northern Bohuslän. The world’s biological diversity and related ecosystem services are threatened both on land and at sea. The United Nations and the European Union are discussing how to protect significantly more nature than before, at least 30 percent of the entire planet’s surface. Also in Swedish waters, there are numerous proposals, some over 30 years old, such as those for new marine national parks, where so far only the Koster Sea marine National park on the west coast has been established. “There is an urgent need to understand and address conflicts and resistance that often meet initiatives for environmental protection,” says Dr. Morf. Together with colleagues from Luleå Technical University and Södertörn University, the researcher has been exploring the enablers and obstacles to establishing new marine protected areas by the example of three marine national park proposals in Sweden: Koster, Nämdö and Sankt Anna. Koster national park was established in 2009, Nämdö is under development, and Sankt Anna has other protection than a national park. According to Dr. Morf, important enablers include shared and trusted knowledge, dialogue and mutual learning, skilled facilitation, time and resources for such a process, strong drivers bringing the different key actors to the table, and…

Nordregio at GreenLab Summit 2022

Karen Refsgaard, Research Director at Nordregio, will participate at GreenLab Summit 2022 presenting on the topic “Rural Development and Just Green Transition”. GreenLab is a green and circular energy park, a technology enabler, and a national research facility. It is specialized in accelerating research and technology to scale, and its concept transforms the way green energy is produced, converted, stored, and applied. GreenLab tests theories in practice and looks for viable green solutions to the world’s biggest challenges. This year, the program of the summit focuses on how to create green growth, rural development, and a just green transition through industrial symbioses and energy innovation. At Nordregio, we have collaborated with GreenLab on several projects on bio-economy including the BioBaltic project. Nordregio has also had a joint event together with GreenLab and OECD at COP26 in Glasgow. Read more about the GreenLab Summit 2022 here.

Ministers: “It’s important that people have access to key services wherever they live. “

What’s required for Nordic rural areas to be attractive places to live, settle and work in? The Nordic ministers responsible for regional policy want to know how young people in sparsely populated areas would answer that question. At the Minister’s meeting on the 10th of May, Nordregio’s two research projects were discussed: essential services in rural areas and remote work. The ministers reviewed new innovative solutions that are emerging around the Nordic Region to safeguard essential services in sparsely populated areas. At the meeting, the ministers also brought with them examples from their countries on new ways of safeguarding the public and private services, thereby increasing public confidence that it’s possible to invest, live, and work in sparsely populated areas. “It’s important that people have access to key services wherever they live. Throughout the Nordic Region, we’re seeing interesting examples of grouping services into service points and that new digital services are making everyday life easier for rural residents. It gives people security and is a prerequisite for them to be able to live wherever they want,” says Sigbjørn Gjelsvik, Norway’s Minister of Local Government and Regional Development and host of the Nordic ministerial meeting on 10 May.   The distance to the nearest grocery store, pharmacy, library, or school gradually increases the closer you live to the northern borders of Sweden and Finland, and the further west from Copenhagen you live in Denmark. In Norway, the geographical patterns aren’t as clear, but even here there are large differences between the municipalities in sparsely populated areas and large cities.  A new knowledge overview Essential rural services in the Nordic Region by Nordregio describes the fundamental need for services in rural areas in the Nordic Region and was the basis for the ministers’ discussion. Swedish service points and Danish education for…

What will be the future of remote work post-pandemic?

– Evidence suggests that increased remote work is here to stay, but a large-scale shift towards a “remote first” mindset looks unlikely, says Senior Research Fellow Linda Randall from Nordregio. She is the lead author of Nordic Knowledge Overview on remote work published this week. The mindset matters when considering the effects of remote work for different places; influencing the extent to which workers can distance themselves from their workplaces. At the same time, we do see some evidence of spatial changes. The number of daily commuters is still well below pre-pandemic levels and migration patterns suggest increased attractiveness of outer urban municipalities, smaller cities, and rural areas within commuting distance of larger cities. From a planning perspective, a range of interesting questions emerges regarding the social, economic, and environmental sustainability of increased remote work. – Most workers do not have the possibility to work remotely and, even for those who do, the advantages and disadvantages will differ between groups. An increasing tendency to split one’s time between two or more municipalities calls into question existing frameworks around taxation and service provision, Randall continues. While remote work may reduce the need for travel, more knowledge is needed about the indirect impacts before assuming favourable environmental outcomes overall. The Nordic knowledge overview was the first part of the project and now you have a chance to get involved and be part of our study’s next part:  How is increased remote work effecting your municipality or region? Let us know here (you can answer in English or any Nordic language): https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/planningandremotework This report is the first outcome of the project Remote work: Effects on Nordic people, places and planning 2021-2024. The project is part of the Nordic Co-operation Programme for Regional Development and Planning.

Self-sufficiency of food production in five Nordic islands

Of the five Nordic islands surveyed, the most self-sufficient is Åland, and the least self-sufficient is Bornholm. The degree of self-sufficiency is important for crisis preparedness and for thriving rural areas – but what does it mean for sustainability? This issue is being investigated in a new report. The report maps self-sufficiency in food production in five Nordic island communities, i.e. how much of the food consumed by the islands has also been produced there.  At one end of the spectrum, we have Åland with a varied production of milk and cheese, potatoes and barley, fish and vegetables. At the other end is Bornholm, with little by way of high-quality vegetable production, but also large exports of pigs. Iceland falls between the two, with the second-highest degree of self-sufficiency, followed by the Faroe Islands and Greenland. Read the report: Self-sufficiency in food production in five Nordic island communities Locally produced = sustainable?  The basic issue examined in the report is whether greater self-sufficiency in food production also makes food systems more sustainable.  “The answer depends on what is produced and how. If local food production requires a lot of space, energy, and water, it may be more sustainable to produce it elsewhere. Local and sustainable food production can’t be seen as equal,” says Louise Ormstrup Vestergård, project manager and researcher at the Nordic research institute Nordregio. Polarised discussion Historically, there have been political arguments for increasing self-sufficiency, so that a country doesn’t become too dependent on others. On the other side of the coin, there are economic arguments for completely open borders.  But what about sustainability?  “I don’t think that either sustainability or the robustness of food systems would benefit from switching to 100% local production. It can become both socially and environmentally unsustainable if you have too high a…

Nordregio co-moderates a panel discussion on the topic ´The role of regions in the Green Transition´  

“The transition towards a green economy cannot be achieved with either policy or technological innovations alone. Actions are needed at multiple scales to transform the interlinked social and technical systems. However, rather than aiming for a single grand solution or ‘holy grail’, different regions may find solutions appropriate to the locally available resources, knowledge, and networks,” says Alberto Giacometti, Research Fellow at Nordregio. Giacometti, Nordregio researcher, together with Virginija Kargytė, Vytautas Magnus University in Lithuania, will facilitate a discussion on this topic on 5th of May at 10:00 EET at the 3rd International Scientific Conference “Sustainable Bioeconomy Development 2022: Theory and Practice”. As part of the BioBaltic project, this session is meant to provide inspiration on how different regions and municipalities have mobilised change towards a green economy as well as to generate exchange across the Nordics and Baltics. Read more about the session and register here: https://sbd.vdu.lt/panel-discussion/

Social housing – a forbidden issue in Sweden?

”There is no generally accepted definition of what social housing is. However, the smallest common denominators are that it is some form of subsidized housing with lower rents that is, at least partially, allocated to households on lower incomes and not just temporarily, but on long term contracts”, says Senior Research Fellow Anna Granath Hansson in the Swedish speaking radio programme ”Ett eget litet hem” on Sveriges Radio. Anna has just started at Nordregio and her main focus is housing. Social housing exists in the Nordics countries, but the topic is often seen as taboo in the Swedish political discussion. ”In Sweden, we are not used to housing policies that target certain groups. This is something new and often misunderstood. In this program, social housing is compared to social contracts for the most vulnerable. When we look at Nordic and European models, these are often much wider, encompassing also mid-income households.” Listen to the full episode here in Swedish: https://sverigesradio.se/avsnitt/om-hyresratten-social-housing-den-forbjudna-fragan

Nordic Talks: The rural way

When Covid-19 hit countries with lockdowns and foreign travel restrictions, rural areas suddenly got overwhelmed with visitors who overpowered the infrastructure. On the other side, people got more open-minded about rural living, more aware of the potential mental and physical health benefits, as well as more sustainable lifestyles. All these changes and benefits were discussed in the newest Nordic Talks podcast hosted by Nordregio, CoDel and the University of Limerick. Senior Research Fellow at Nordregio and head of the Nordic Thematic Group on Green Inclusive Rural Regional Development Anna Karlsdóttir, together with other researchers from Scotland and Ireland, shared her insights on how rural communities in the Nordics and around the world turned the Covid-19 crisis into an opportunity. According to Karlsdóttir, rural and remote areas have received much more interest as touristic places which could be both advantages and disadvantages for the locals. “Sustainable tourism development needs to balance between being a good place to live for inhabitants and a good place to visit. It is hard to connect sustainable well-balanced community development with the well-being of the inhabitants along with the tourism development,” says the researcher. Speakers also discussed how we can develop thriving, but still sustainable rural areas over the coming decades. This Nordic Talks event was organized by the University of Limerick in Ireland, Nordregio in Sweden, and CoDel in the United Kingdom.

Nordregio’s position regarding the funding of research and research collaboration with Russia and Belarus

The Council of Nordic Ministers decided as of March 4, 2022, to immediately discontinue all collaborative efforts with Russia and Belarus. The Nordic Ministers for Cooperation stand united in this decision. This means that programs, projects, and activities in Russia and Belarus are discontinued until further notice. In light of the stance put forth by the Nordic Ministers for Cooperation, Nordregio issues a moratorium as regards the disbursal of project funds, the acceptance of applications, the execution of projects, and the entry into agreements and the like that involve Russian and Belarusian parties. The intention is to end all contacts and collaborative efforts with governmental and public institutions of Russian or Belarusian origin. “Intellectual and cultural engagement between individuals is an important prerequisite to creating cohesion and mutual understanding between countries. It is devastating that this war in this way will affect cooperation in academia, research and culture – fields that are meant to serve as tools for mitigating conflicts, building global understanding across borders and supporting people-to-people contacts. The Director reserves the right to decide whether specific contacts and collaborative efforts are appropriate on a case-by-case basis if the circumstances change in the future,” says Nordregio Director Rolf Elmér. Nordregio has been involved with four projects with one or several Russian counterparts: FemArc, Semper Arctic, WANO and Accelerating wood construction across Nordics and Russia. All of these projects have been halted.

UppTalk 29 March: Local communities need local energy production

There is a need to promote locally-owned energy projects in Sweden. The EU emphasizes this as a key to the sustainable energy transition. In this week’s UppTalk, Johanna Liljenfeldt (Uppsala University) and Elin Slätmo (Nordregio) will talk about how to increase successful local ownership of energy by sharing knowledge, and studying opportunities, risks and the values of local energy ownership for local communities across Sweden. The session in UppTalk is based on the project Local ownership in transitions towards sustainable energy systems (Lokalt ägandeskap i omställning till hållbara energisystem), funded by the Swedish Energy Agency (Energimyndigheten). UppTalk Weekly is a popular science seminar series by Uppsala University. It takes place on Zoom where you can take part in interesting conversations. UppTalk 29 March at 12-12.30 (CET), in Swedish.  Join here: https://www.upptech.uu.se/kalendarium/evenemang/?eventId=69964 Visit project website: https://nordregioprojects.org/locally-owned-energy/

Nordregio researcher offers insight on multi-locality at ESPON event

On 17 March 2022, Nordregio Senior Research Advisor Linda Randall took part in the ESPON Peer Learning Workshop on Housing and Multi-locationality. Senior Research Advisor Linda Randall took part in a session called “Urbanisation patterns before and during the Covid-19 outbreak” with a presentation titled “Distance work: What will be the regional effects?”. It reflected on the early findings of a Nordic project that explores the long-term implications of increased distance work for cities, regions, and rural areas. How will mobility and migration patterns change? Will we see more workers making the shift to multilocal lifestyles? How should planners respond when the nature of potential changes is so uncertain? The event took place online and gathered experts from different research areas affected by multi-locality and the past two years’ changes. The ESPON Peer Learning Workshop aimed to give insight into the current policy processes targeted to the context of smaller cities in regions and combines these discussions with the presentation of results of the ESPON project SUPER, which analysed the main patterns in European urbanisation processes.

Leneisja Jungsberg, Nordregio Research Fellow, defends Ph.D thesis

On 11 March 2022, Nordregio Research Fellow Leneisja Jungsberg has succesfully defended her Ph.D thesis at the University of Copenhagen.  The thesis, a result of five years of work and research, focuses on how local strategies can create local development in rural areas in Nordic and Arctic regions, zooming in on sustainability in three areas: the economic, social and environmental. Among the topics analysed are community-driven social innovation, local smart specialisation processes and the adaptive capacity to manage permafrost thaw in Northwest Greenland.  “The most exciting about the research is that it shows the enablers of the local level to manage social challenges, economic challenges, and environmental challenges. The enablers can be new activities and collaboration models that generate, e.g., a social innovation initiative. However, it can also be community members helping each other out mending structural damages to houses due to permafrost degradation,” says Jungsberg.  “Rural communities responding to territorial challenges in the Nordic Region” is an industrial PhD study, financed by Nordregio, Copenhagen University, Nordic thematic group for demography and welfare, Northern Periphery and Arctic programme – REGINA and Horizon 2020 Nunataryuk project. 

Nordic City Network seminar for stronger cooperation and project planning  

Nordregio hosted a Nordic City Network seminar. The hybrid workshop aimed to strengthen the cooperation between the network’s thirteen-member cities from Sweden, Norway, Denmark, and the Faroe Islands. The event also sought to identify common themes of interest as a basis for joint activities and projects.  Nordregio has had a cooperation agreement with the Nordic City Network for almost a year. This collaboration aims to promote exchange between research, policy development, and practice towards more sustainable cities.  “As the main takeaway from the event, we identified common interests in themes such as counteracting segregation and better understanding the effects of different levels of planning as well as the importance of carrying out Nordic comparisons. Overall, there is plenty of potential for fruitful collaboration with the network while the exact form of how this could take place still needs to be concretised”, – says Mats Stjernberg, Senior Research Fellow at Nordregio who is also Nordregio’s representative in Nordic City Network’s board. During the workshop, representatives from Nordregio presented how the institution conducts research and works with different types of projects. The main presentations focused on long-term planning for inclusive cities, national claims in spatial planning, the implications of segregation in the light of covid-19, as well as on the ongoing NORDGREEN and TGA2 projects and different ways that we collaborate with various stakeholders. –> Read more about Nordic City Network here.

Nordregio welcomes new researchers!

Nordregio is welcoming two new researchers to our team, hoping to continue producing high-quality and relevant research further.  Ana de Jesus, Senior Research Fellow. De Jesus is a social scientist with a multidisciplinary background working at the intersection of global studies and economics, focusing on innovation, circular economy and sustainability. Hilma Salonen is joining Nordregio as a Research Fellow. Salonen is a social scientist who specialises in sustainability transitions, remote locations and energy politics, with a PhD focusing on Russian regional development in the Arctic and how it links with renewable energy prospects. She aims to broaden her scope to include Finnish rural regions and explore making sustainability transitions more just by focusing on habits. Salonen’s hope for working at Nordregio is to work with more practical results and more engagement with the general public.

Stories from cross-border areas during Covid-19

The trust between people in cross-border regions is not gone but has been affected by the Covid-19 pandemic, and municipal and regional micro diplomatic relations play an important role in rebuilding this trust – a recently published report shows. The  “Covid-19 in Borderlands” (Covid-19 i gränslandet) report focuses on stories emerging from the Covid-19 crisis and the impact of border restrictions on communities along the Swedish-Norwegian border in Värmland (SE), Innlandet and Viken (NO).  “We should not forget that in border areas, the border is, by and large, invisible. People live, work and thrive across borders; it is a promise of opportunity for many. With the COVID-19 crisis, the border became an obstacle to living life as normal. This may affect the future dynamics of cross-border living. We need to recognise that even if Sweden and Norway are two different countries, the countries are highly intertwined,” says an author of the report Mari Wøien Meijer, Research Fellow at Nordregio. According to the researcher, existing collaborative constellations have continued during the pandemic and are an important element in building political and diplomatic resilience. “Covid-19 in Borderlands” was written on behalf of Region Värmland, supporting their report on Swedish-Norwegian relations.  Read the report here. (In Swedish)

SHERPA project working towards sustainable multi-actor platforms

Sustainable Hub to Engage into Rural Policies with Actors (SHERPA) arranged a workshop to kick-start the second phase of SHERPA MAPs by introducing new Facilitators and Monitors to the SHERPA tools. The session aimed at ensuring that both experienced and new Facilitators and Monitors have the same information and feel prepared to facilitate and monitor multi-actor platforms (MAPs) – rural interfaces that provide a forum for co-learning and co-creation of knowledge with European, national and regional actors. “Our societies are facing extremely complex problems that are connected to global and interlinked processes, such as climate change, poverty and inequalities. These problems cannot be solved by scientists or politicians alone. It demands different fields of expertise – including citizens and experience-based knowledge – to interact and collaborate for new ideas and innovations “, says Elin Slätmo, Senior Research Fellow at Nordregio. According to the researcher, if the multi-actor group is open to combining different types of knowledge and experiences, research shows that applying this method to rural areas can help deal with issues of lack of trust between local actors and central governments. Furthermore, it can help create common visions for sustainable regional development with a commitment to implementing and strengthening rural areas’ resilience and economic competitiveness.  “There are, however, no recipes for success – adaptation and constant learning and development is crucial for processes, outputs and outcomes to be sustainable “, adds Slätmo. SHERPA is a four-year project with 17 partners, funded by European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme and coordinated by Ecorys in Brussels. The project aims to formulate recommendations to redefine European development policies and research agenda for rural areas. There will be established 40 MAPs for actors from science, society and policy to interact. Nordregio’s role is to develop the theoretical framework for the science-society-policy interface in…