The Estonian Human Development Report 2019/2020, Spatial choices for an urbanised society, published by the Estonian Cooperation Assembly looks at the impact of space on people’s quality of life and social processes. The report points out that 40% of the population live in and around Tallinn and the only growing region is Harjumaa county; the rest of Estonia is shrinking. The contributors propose that two administrative models be drawn up for Estonia – one for metropolitanisation, the other for shrinkage. 

According to statistics, 69% of the population live in cities and towns, and 40% live in and around Tallinn. Between 2000 and 2017, the area of settled or residential land increased by 138 sq. km, mainly in the municipalities outside Tallinn. During that period, new urban land equal to nine times the area of the town of Viljandi has been created in Estonia, while no new towns have actually been added to the map.

“The whole world is urbanising, and so is Estonia. People, economic activity and services are concentrating in and around Tallinn. This is not bad in itself, but there are two problems here for Estonia. This metropolitanisation has been hasty and unplanned; and second, it has occurred at the expense of the counties. In other words, Estonia is shrinking,” says editor-in-chief of the report Helen Sooväli-Sepping. “The ‘two Estonias’ referred to by social scientists in 2000 have now become a reality in terms of spatial development.”

An urban environment that follows the principles of sustainable development and provides a good quality of life feels good for 8 and 80-year-olds alike; this principle should underlie the planning of green spaces, public transport, and bicycle and pedestrian paths.

“With unplanned, rapid metropolitanisation, there was no time to reach a social agreement and consciously develop good urban space. The result is an urban environment where car parks and roads take up more gross space than pedestrian paths, and public access to larger recreation areas has decreased significantly, as forests and green spaces outside the larger cities have been replaced by suburban areas,” Sooväli-Sepping explains.

The authors stress that Estonia needs an urban policy based on actual urban areas, rather than formal city boundaries. Urban policy must connect public transport networks with pedestrian and bicycle networks, enabling residents, especially social groups that currently depend on cars, such as children and the elderly, to move independently. There is also a need for consciously planned urban green spaces, which are necessary for people’s mental and physical health. 

Estonia’s metropolitanisation causes shrinkage. Between 2000 and 2018, the population of Harjumaa county increased by 10%, while Tartumaa county lost 4% of its population and the rest of the counties shrank by 10 to 25%.

“This vicious cycle is difficult to break: as people leave the area after losing their jobs, the lack of a critical mass of consumers for services also causes a reduction of service jobs, and as a result, the pressure to close down vital daily services increases. A large number of people in various rural areas, towns and smaller settlements face problems with access to services,” says Sooväli-Sepping.

According to Sooväli-Sepping, this process is alleviated by the multilocality enjoyed by Estonians, something that people also took advantage of during the coronavirus crisis. “Many have two homes, one in the city and the other in the country, where they travel on weekends and for summer holidays. Added to this are transnational families, who live abroad and come on holiday to Estonia,” says Sooväli-Sepping.

The authors of the report observe that the recent administrative reform has not offered lasting solutions to shrinkage and suggest that Estonia needs a place-based plan for smart shrinking in three key areas: jobs, homes and basic services. This requires regional development to be planned and the challenges resolved from two fundamentally different perspectives: from the point of view of growth and competition based on the principles of the market economy, and from the point of view of sustainable downsizing based on solidarity. Estonia needs two administrative models – one for metropolitanisation, the other for shrinkage.

Read more about Estonian Human Development Report for 2019/2020: Spatial choices for an urbanised society.

Background

The Estonian Human Development Report is a biennial report that presents and interprets data on the socio-economic development of the country compiled by prominent Estonian scientists and experts.

The methodology of the report is based on an international standard – the global human development reports published by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) since 1990. Taking into account a number of indicators, the countries of the world are ranked every year according to the Human Development Index, which helps to compare people’s real quality of life in different countries.

Estonian human development reports have been published since 1995. From 2006, the reports have been published by the Estonian Cooperation Assembly.

The Estonian Human Development Report 2019/2020: Spatial choices for an urbanised society is the ninth Estonian human development report. The editor-in-chief is Helen Sooväli-Sepping, Professor of Environmental Studies, Senior Researcher of Cultural Geography, and Vice-Rector at Tallinn University.

The contributors are 39 researchers from the University of Tartu, Tallinn University, Tallinn University of Technology, Estonian University of Life Sciences, Estonian Academy of Arts, University of Helsinki and Manchester School of Architecture.

 

Brief summary of the Estonian Human Development Report 2019/2020: Spatial choices for an urbanised society

Spatial choices for an urbanised society is the ninth Estonian Human Development Report published by the Estonian Cooperation Assembly.

The editor-in-chief of the report is Helen Sooväli-Sepping, Professor of Environmental Studies, Senior Researcher of Cultural Geography, and Vice-Rector at Tallinn University. The contributors are 39 researchers from the University of Tartu, Tallinn University, Tallinn University of Technology, Estonian University of Life Sciences, Estonian Academy of Arts, University of Helsinki and Manchester School of Architecture.

The Estonian Human Development Report 2019/2020 focuses on spatial developments in Estonia and their impact on the well-being of the population and social processes. In a situation where 40% of Estonia’s land resources are state-owned, 1% are owned by local governments and 59% are privately owned, it is pertinent to ask: How could we recreate and enhance spatial diversity and quality in Estonia in a way that is democratic and serves the interests of society as a whole?

Editor-in-chief of the report Helen Sooväli-Sepping: ‘The development of our society has reached a point where our basic needs are met and we are ready to think about our living environment and how we organise our space – for example, where we live, how we live, how we care for nature and how we interact with each other. We have developed an expectation of good-quality space – both physical and deliberative space – and we want to have a say in this.’

The report looks at space in a broad sense, analysing the Estonian settlement structure, natural areas, urban space, including urban design, and the deliberative space that connects us. Therefore, space as the umbrella term for this report refers to the common space that serves the public interest and provides public goods.

The topic was proposed by the advisory board of the Cooperation Assembly in 2018.

The main theses of the Estonian Human Development Report:

Estonia has advanced to 30th position in the world in terms of human development, but has remained there since 2015.

  • Estonian residents have an average life expectancy of 78.6 years, which is 3 years less than the European Union average. Life expectancy depends on several factors: the environment, access to healthcare, people’s standard of living and health awareness. In Estonia, life expectancy is higher in urban areas, among ethnic Estonians and the more highly educated population (Statistics Estonia 2018).
  • The well-being of the Estonian population has improved remarkably compared to other countries in the world, but domestically, social inequality between regions is deepening. According to Statistics Estonia, 284,300 (21.7%) Estonians lived in relative poverty and 31,400 (2.4%) in absolute poverty in 2019. About half of the elderly population experience relative poverty. While the share of the population at risk of poverty has decreased slowly but steadily in recent years, the difference between the richest and poorest fifth of the population has not changed since 2017. Not all social groups or regions have benefited from the increase in well-being.

Estonia is undergoing metropolitanisation – people, economic activity and services are concentrating in and around Tallinn, while the rest of the country is shrinking. The ‘two Estonias’ referred to by social scientists in 2000 have now become a reality.

  • At present, 69% of the population live in cities and towns, and 40% live in and around Tallinn.
  • Metropolitanisation has happened rapidly, with ever larger new property and traffic infrastructure developments, residential segregation, fragmented expansion of new settlements, and shrinking public urban space, which may cause a reduced standard of living and environmental damage with adverse impacts on the climate.
  • An urban environment that follows the principles of sustainable development and provides a good quality of life feels good for 8 and 80-year-olds alike; this principle should underlie the planning of green spaces, public transport, and bicycle and pedestrian paths.
  • Estonia as a whole needs urban policy-making based on actual urban areas, rather than formal city boundaries; Tallinn’s potential lies in its continuing development into a twin city with Helsinki Talsinki could combine Helsinki’s global image for knowledge economy and quality of life with Tallinn’s innovation and growth momentum to emerge as a city of the future which fosters knowledge economy and innovation.

Estonian counties are shrinking; this is mitigated by the multilocality enjoyed by Estonians, which connects Tallinn with the counties and other cities with their surrounding villages.

  • Between 2000 and 2018, the population of Harjumaa county increased by 10%, while Tartumaa county lost 4% of its population and the other counties 10–25%.
  • This vicious cycle is difficult to break: as people leave the area after losing their jobs, the lack of a critical mass of consumers for services also causes a reduction of service jobs, and as a result, the pressure to close down vital daily services increases.
  • Estonia needs a place-based plan for smart shrinking in three key areas: jobs, homes and basic services. This requires regional development to be planned and the challenges resolved from two fundamentally different perspectives: from the point of view of growth and competition based on the principles of the market economy, and from the point of view of sustainable downsizing based on solidarity. Estonia needs two administrative models – one for metropolitanisation, the other for shrinking.

The deliberative space has shifted from argumentation towards oversimplification. Communication is dominated by easily grasped messages with a strong emotional charge.

  • Public discussion has come to be dominated by affective or emotional jargon, the rapid labelling of news-based situations, disparaging attitudes based on prejudice, and often hate speech. The emotional form of communication originating in social media has spread throughout the media space, where expert and evidence-based argumentation can be used to set up a conflict between different positions and refute arguments instead of finding common ground in the debate. Since affective communication does not allow for social dialogue based on understanding, and relies on the spread of false information, media education for the broad population is needed to counter this. A balanced, consensus-oriented deliberative space is a prerequisite for cooperation and connection between different social groups.
  • Estonian youth avoid public discussion. Young Estonian internet users rely more heavily on social media than journalism to access news, but consider the latter to be a more trustworthy source for news. Young people do not participate much in online discussion forums, as they reject the hierarchies and affective jargon found there. Instead of mediated discussion spaces, they prefer face-to-face conversations and tend to contribute to society through concrete real-life activities.
    Media leaders value media literacy among young people.
  • More effective, transparent and feedback-based modes of public participation are needed to promote participatory democracy. Digital platforms, a media space based on analytical argumentation, a competent civil service and reliable experts all contribute to this, ensuring the exchange of knowledge and building trust between the state and its citizens.

Built heritage and natural areas as part of our culture strengthen people’s relationship with the environment and their sense of belonging.

  • As well as historical and textual narratives, the cultural space is made up of physical space as a medium for national self-description. A diverse living environment requires the protection of built heritage based on the principles of sustainable development to ensure the preservation, reuse and management of buildings of national importance. A good example is the Rotermann Quarter in Tallinn, where a combination of protected industrial buildings and new architecture has created a highly valued and diverse space.
  • In Estonia, many cultural practices orally passed down from generation to generation, such as mushroom and berry picking and the cultivation and preservation of fruit and vegetables, have survived. We protect nature and care about the environment. Despite all this, the Estonian population is losing contact with nature; the last couple of generations are lacking knowledge of nature more broadly. Such an interruption in cultural continuity is directly related to environmental awareness and behaviour towards the environment. Society will take climate change and threats to biodiversity more seriously only if people perceive and experience nature directly. Integrated, purposeful planning in Estonian urban areas will stop building over urban and peri-urban green spaces, which are crucial for human health and well-being.

Background

The Estonian Human Development Report is a biennial report that presents and interprets data on the socio-economic development of the country compiled by prominent Estonian scientists and experts. The report is a reflection of the current situation in Estonia and its development choices, which can be used by decision-makers in politics, the economy and other fields.

The methodology of the report is based on an international standard – the global human development reports published by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) since 1990. Taking into account a number of indicators, the countries of the world are ranked every year according to the Human Development Index, which helps to compare people’s real quality of life in different countries.

Estonian human development reports have been published since 1995. From 2006, the reports have been published by the Estonian Cooperation Assembly.

Veeb: MKoort