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Poll: most Finns want government to curb urbanisation

Urban sprawl has more than half of respondents worried.

Tripla ostoskeskus Helsingin Pasilassa.
A shopping centre in Helsinki overshadows nearby flora. Image: Toni Määttä / Yle

A new survey by pollster Taloustutkimus finds that well over half of Finnish respondents would like government to slow the phenomenon of urbanisation. One-third said the government should have no hand in how fast cities spread, and just two percent supported more urban development.

Sociology reseacher Timo Aro said that interviewees respond emotionally rather than practically when asked about the spread of cities.

"On one hand the results show that people are often afraid or tentative of big trends such as urbanisation," Aro said.

"Then again there is also a sense of rural revenge at play. People associate urbanisation with the capital region, Turku, Tampere and other big cities. When asked in polls like this, non-city dwellers feel the need to lash out at Helsinki or other urban centres."

Widespread consensus

The Taloustutkimus poll queried 1,005 people about their views on urbanisation, and found that female respondents were more likely to call for limits on urbanisation (61 percent) than men were (52 percent).

"It's a mystery why this gender disparity exists," Aro said.

Respondents aged 35-64 were most likely to resist urbanisation. Millennials aged 25-34 were most opposed to the government having any say at all in the rate of urbanisation (45 percent).

In terms of regional differences, respondents in northern and eastern Finland were most in favour of slowing urbanisation (64 percent). By contrast, inhabitants of Helsinki and Uusimaa in the south were least in favour of slowing urban spread (50 percent). The poll's margin of error was +/- three percentage points.

"Lots of people in the capital region have moved there from rural areas," said Finns Party MP Arja Juvonen. "Many people leave for big cities to study and work, and realise during middle-age that the countryside is always an option. Rural areas are respected."

Opinion on urbanisation based on party affiliation
Opinion on urbanisation based on party affiliation. Image: Lasse Isokangas / Yle

Municipalities bordering the capital region are outliers, with 57 percent of respondents living there saying the government should have no say in urbanisation.

Respondents who supported the Finns Party and the Social Democratic Party were most likely to demand the government stop the urbanisation trend.

"For both of these parties the ideal Finnish society is in the past," said Aro. "Democrats consider the welfare state and the Nordic model to be the blueprint for everything against which all changes are compared. The Finns Party wants to return to a nostalgic past that no longer exists."

Government unable to slow spread?

Aro said that for decades people have widely called for the government to step in when worried about keeping the entire country inhabited or seeing regions develop in a balanced way.

He also said that the government's chances of slowing down urbanisation are questionable and even foolish in terms of economic growth.

"If we want to take better care of far-flung cities than we do today, we should talk about the regionalisation of government jobs, more even distribution of educational opportunities, even regional subsidies and subventions. Measures like these aren't entirely unproblematic from the perspective of equality," Aro said.

The government should not interfere with urbanisation either by increasing or diminishing it, Aro said, as people, companies and other players in society should be able to decide where they set up shop.

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