Towards a grid-based Nordic territorial typology

A new tool for analysis across the urban-rural continuum


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This report presents the grid-based Nordic urban–rural typology, which was developed as a new analytical tool for studying different types of spatial phenomena across Nordic territories. In this study this meant developing a typology that classifies all Nordic territories into seven different typology classes based on different degrees of urbanity and rurality. A key starting point for this work was the need for a territorial typology that would help enrich and provide new understanding of different types of urban and rural areas across the Nordic countries and shed light on how they are developing.This report first presents how the typology was created, including the rationale behind the typology, key considerations at different stages of the work, and the main operational steps taken. The main purpose was to create a new territorial typology, to which different types of data could be combined, thus helping to provide a more nuanced and fine-grained understanding of territorial differences across the Nordic countries. Several key principles were specified early in the work. These include that the typology should be created at grid-level (1 x 1 km) as this allows identifying the characteristics of different types of areas at a very detailed territorial level. Another key decision was to create the typology mainly using open-source data and following a replicable method, to make any possible future updates to the typology easier and less costly. For the development of the Nordic typology, the Finnish grid-based urban–rural classification (Kaupunki-maaseutuluokitus) was the main source of inspiration.This Nordic typology and population data at grid level (linked to the typology) is then used as an analytical lens for studying territorial differences, settlement pattens and demographic change dynamics in the five Nordic countries. According to the typology, the Nordic countries are predominantly rural when considering how their land areas are classified. However, an examination of settlement patterns according to the Nordic typology shows that the settlements are rather unevenly distributed in all the Nordic countries, and the majority of the population live relatively concentrated in areas that are classified as urban. In general, the population is largely concentrated in coastal areas and along waterways, where the major urban regions are found, reflecting historical patterns and features of physical geography. The Nordic typology is also used to examine what types of population change dynamics occurred in the Nordic countries during the period 2008–2022. The analysis shows that urbanisation has been a general trend during the past couple of decades, with the largest population growth occurring in the typology classes inner urban and outer urban. A relatively noticeable increase in population is also evident in peri-urban areas, suggesting suburbanisation and that intermediate areas located on the urban fringes have increasingly attracted new residents. In rural areas, the general trend shows that depopulation has occurred in many rural localities, but different types of rural areas have developed quite differently. Based on the analysis, rural areas that are in the vicinity of cities and towns appear to have become more attractive places for people to settle, while sparsely populated rural areas seem to be less favourably placed and have generally witnessed population decrease. This report shows how this typology and more fine-grained data can help reveal territorial differences that cannot be observed with more general statistics and data. The grid-based Nordic typology shows that many municipalities are at the same time both urban, intermediate, and rural, and in many cases these different categories seem to be undergoing quite different types of development. While the Nordic urban–rural typology is used in this study to examine settlement patterns and population change dynamics, it should be stressed that the typology is also well-suited to be used in combination with other types of data and as an analytical framework for studying also other types of spatial phenomena across the urban–rural continuum. 
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