Housing and communities 2020
Urbanisation and population ageing shape communities as climate change requires more sustainable solutions

12.4.2021 9.52
Urbanisation and population ageing shape communities as climate change requires more sustainable solutions

Climate change forces society and individuals to act more sustainably and prepare for the risks caused by weather phenomena, such as floods. Finland’s population is ageing and an increasing number of people continue living in their homes. The population is focused on cities, which enables well-functioning public transport and the availability of good services in densely populated areas. At the same time, challenges emerge for organising services in regions where population declines. Technology and the services that utilise it are increasingly integrated into all structures of society and offer new opportunities for organising services.

The number of people aged 75 and over living at home has increased since 2012

Figure: Persons aged 75 and over living at home (source: Sotkanet) and people aged at least 75 covered by regular home care services (Source: Sotkanet).

The indicator describes the opportunities for older people to live independently. It contains two variables that reflect the share of the population aged 75 and over living at home and provided with regular home care of the total population of the same age. From the perspective of sustainable development, the indicator measures the wellbeing of older people.

Finland’s population is ageing. and live longer and healthier lives than before. According to a population projection, one in four or more inhabitants of most Finnish municipalities will be 75 years old or older in 2030. Older people often live in their homes, located in a block of flats and in the vicinity of services, and wish to continue living this way. In the future, an increasing number of older people will also be living on their own. The age-friendliness of the living environment and living conditions as well as the possibility of getting help in everyday life significantly influence older people’s possibilities for continuing to live at home.

Finland’s current situation

At the end of 2018, the share of those aged 75 and over living at home was 91.3%. Between 2013 and 2018, 57–58 per cent of the age group were lived alone. Moreover, 11% of those aged 75 and over were recipients of regular home care, and this share has remained relatively stable in recent years. The services needed by residents were mostly security or catering services, and one in ten clients were also covered by informal care support. Of the clients of services for older people aged 75 and over, 60% are women. Three out of four people aged 75 and over living at home do not need regular support or services.

One of the main objectives of the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda (3) is to guarantee healthy lives and wellbeing for people of all ages. In 2013, the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health and the Association of Finnish Local and Regional Authorities issued quality recommendations which included setting a goal that 91‒92 per cent of persons over 75 years of age will live at home in 2017. The aim of the 2017 quality recommendation was to further improve the possibilities of living at home by improving social welfare and health care services, which enable living at home and independently as well as the range of services implemented at home, such as rehabilitation services, emergency care and home hospital services.

Investing in the accessibility of housing stock and the environment, providing different housing alternatives and various transport solutions promote age-friendly living environments. For example, the Housing Finance and Development Centre (ARA) grants renovation subsidies for the housing of older persons and persons with disabilities. The aim is also to develop housing production in which people of different ages could live together by investing in the accessibility of housing, living environment and services. Developing age-friendly living environments plays an important role. In addition, age technology can provide opportunities that facilitate living at home.

Finland’s recent development

The share of those aged 75 and over living at home has increased since 2012, and the health of the age groups is on average better compared to the previous generations. However, people who are older and in poorer health also live at home whereas they could not have before. The challenges posed by ageing have been estimated to increase in the future and the differences between regions will grow. In particular, the number of residents in rural areas is dropping and the population remaining in the areas are ageing, which poses a challenge to the need for and supply of services.

The need for home care services has increased in recent years. The number of persons receiving a lot of home care services has more than doubled in the span of a decade.

The share of people aged 75 and over who felt that their quality of life was good increased from 42 per cent to 50 per cent in the period 2013–2017, but fell back to 42 per cent during the final year under review. In 2018, 58 per cent of those aged 75 and over felt that their health was average or worse. This share has decreased throughout the period considered from 69 per cent in 2013. In 2018, the share of those with at least major difficulties in taking care of themselves among those aged 75 and over was 12 per cent. Compared to women, a larger proportion of men feel that their quality of life is good, their health is better, or they struggle less in taking care of themselves.

Other observations related to the indicator

As a rule, the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare has only been collecting data using indicators related to the quality of life of older people since 2013, and a limited amount of comparable long-term data is available. There are challenges in interpreting the opportunities for independent living indicator as there is considerable variation in the functional capacity of older people. The indicator does not directly describe the share of older people who live in their homes unwillingly, as a place of care that is considered of sufficient quality or affordable is not available. The quality of care for older people has also been highly criticised, but there are no sufficiently comprehensive and long-term comparable data available. The time series on informal care is missing data from the following years: 1998, 2000, 2002, 2004 and 2006. For these, the time series shows the average for the preceding and subsequent years.

High housing costs particularly affect low-income households in rental housing

Figure: The share of households using more than 40 per cent of their net income on housing costs among owner-occupiers and tenants with a low income. (Source: Statistics Finland)

Reasonable housing costs are essential for a good life. The indicator displays the share of households that spent over 40 per cent of their net revenue on living costs out of total households. The indicator includes low-income households and total households as a point of comparison.

Finland’s current situation

In 2018, around 165,000 households spent over 40 per cent of available income on housing costs, amounting to 6.0 per cent of all households. High housing costs are particularly burdensome for those renting their homes, those with low incomes, those living alone, single parents and those living in the Helsinki Metropolitan Area. In thirty years (1985–2016), the share of housing expenditure of the fifth of population with the lowest income has increased by 14 per cent. People with low incomes are more likely than others to be unemployed, students or over 65-year-olds living alone. Young adults and those over 75 are overrepresented in low-income households.

The aim of sustainable development is to promote the affordability of housing and housing options that match people’s life situations. Under target 11.1 of the 2030 Agenda, everyone should have adequate, affordable and safe accommodation by 2030. The increase in housing costs also partly affects the fragmentation of the urban structure. When the supply and demand of housing are not aligned, house prices and rents will go up. Households move to more inexpensive areas further away from urban centres. As a result, the sustainable implementation of public transport and services will become more difficult, and traffic between regions will increase, leading to an increase in private car use. In a dense urban structure, most of the journeys can be made on foot, by bicycle or by public transport, and environmental objectives can also be more easily achieved, health can be promoted and transport is affordable.

Finland’s recent development

The share of housing costs of disposable income in households has decreased in the period 200–2018 from the peak year 2013, when more than 7 per cent (amounting to more than 191,000) of all households and slightly less than 24 per cent of low-income households spent more than 40 per cent of their disposable income on housing. The share of low-income households with high housing costs living in rental housing was at its lowest in 2010. Of households living in owner-occupied dwellings, the share of high housing costs has remained at around 2 per cent regardless of the place of residence. One reason for this is low interest rates. Nevertheless, the cost of housing is also affected by the general economic situation and employment, the functioning of the construction and housing markets, municipal planning and land policy, and the agreements that coordinate land use, housing and transport between central government and growth centres (MAL). Sufficient housing production at the right locations will reduce housing prices and rental costs.

Other observations related to the indicator

Persons who live in households where the disposable cash income is less than 60% of the median available cash income of all households are considered low income. In 2018, this median income was EUR 24,950. Housing subsidies are not included in housing costs or available financial income. The repayments of loans for owner-occupied accommodation are not included in housing costs; instead, these are examined as a form of saving. When interpreting the indicator, it must be noted that the decrease or small sum of housing costs is not always indicative of a positive development. For example, living in a residence that is in poor condition may be cheap, and in areas that are losing their population, the decrease in housing costs may reflect a significant decline in the value of even housing that is in good condition.

Urbanisation attracts people to large and medium-sized urban regions, improving the local operating conditions for local public transport

Figure: Share of people living in densely built areas (at least 20 inhabitants/ha) in urban areas. (Source: Finnish Environment Institute SYKE)

As a result of urbanisation, the population density of large urban areas has particularly increased in recent years. Provision of services also requires sufficient population density. The indicator describes how densely people live in different urban areas. As a result, it provides a good view of the population density that supports the operating conditions of public transport and the development of communities relying on private car use. 20 inhabitants per hectare is considered a threshold for the operating conditions of public transport.

Finland’s current situation

In 2018, 64.2 per cent of the population of 34 urban areas in Finland lived in a densely built area (20 inhabitants/ha), and in 14 urban areas, more than 50 per cent of the residents lived in a densely built area. This share grew during the 2010s, but is not yet at the level of 2000. There are differences between large and small urban regions. In Helsinki, Tampere and Turku, as well as in larger medium-sized urban areas, housing has become increasingly dense since 2010. By contrast, in smaller medium-sized and small urban areas, the urban structure has become sparser since 2000. In 2018, 82 per cent of residents in the urban region of the City of Helsinki, and 65 per cent in Tampere and Turku lived in densely built areas; however, only 41 per cent of people in, for instance, small urban areas lived in a densely built area.

Large urban areas have the best prerequisites for public transport, as well-functioning public transport services require sufficient population density and a dense urban structure. In both medium-sized and small urban regions, housing is mostly located in the city centre or the periphery of the city centre. In medium-sized urban regions, there are relatively sparse public transport connections and few public transport zones. On the other hand, there are often no local public transport services in small urban regions. Different new mobility services can offer opportunities for providing public transport in small and medium-sized urban regions. According to the Envimat model simulating greenhouse gas emissions and the use of raw materials during lifecycle of the public procurement and household consumption, the carbon footprint of transport was about 40 per cent lower for those living in inner urban areas compared to those living in rural areas close to cities in 2016.

One of the targets of goal 9 of the 2030 Agenda is to promote building a resilient infrastructure. Life dependant on car use increases personal emissions, congestions and health hazards. However, any efforts to enhance the density of the urban structure must take into account the adequacy and accessibility of green areas, as green environments have a significant impact on the physical, mental and social wellbeing of people of all ages.

Finland’s recent development

In Finland, the development towards denser urban structures is facilitated by the ageing of the population, the spread of small dwellings and preference for living in urban regions. However, in their urban planning, Finland's urban regions have reserved zones for low-density housing areas located in the periphery of the regions. If these areas are built as planned, they will lead to an increasing fragmentation of the community structure. Instead, efforts should be made to build affordable urban detached houses at a reasonable distance from urban centres to ensure that families with children can also live near the centres. The development of housing preferences also supports the dense construction of small-scale houses with their own yards.

The share of those living on at least 20 hectares of land declined in all urban areas from 2000 to 2012, after which the share has gradually increased. The increase of the number of people living in densely populated areas has particularly resulted from an increase in supplementary construction dominated by apartment blocks, rather than building on the peripheral areas of urban regions, leading to more fragmented urban structure.

Other observations related to the indicator

The population density has been calculated on a 250 m x 250 m statistical grid cell basis in relation to the land area. The review only includes the cells that are defined as urban areas in the year under review. The division into urban areas of different sizes has been presented in the report Rehunen et al. (2018).

Trade in convenience goods is concentrated and accessibility is reduced especially in small urban areas and rural areas

Figure: Share of residents living within 500 metres of the nearest convenience shop in densely populated urban areas. (Source: Ministry of the Environment)

The location of places that play a key role in people's everyday lives, such as convenience shops, is important from the viewpoint of the daily lives of residents, the functioning of the community structure and sustainable mobility. The accessibility of services is often also one of the most important amenity factors in residential areas. This indicator describes the share of inhabitants in a densely populated urban areas or urban regions living within at most 500 metres as the crow flies from the nearest convenience shop.

Finland’s current situation

In 2018, 56.5 per cent of the population in 34 densely populated urban areas in Finland lived at a maximum distance of 500 metres from a convenience shop. The trend has been declining since 2012. As a shop needs to have a sufficient number of customers to thrive, the accessibility of services is better in more densely populated areas.

The good accessibility of convenience shops and other daily services, especially for older people, children and households, who do not own a car, is particularly important, as people tend to use the shops several times a week. For older people, access to a convenience shop enables independent living. The popularity of e-commerce is constantly growing, which can be a contributing factor when people are making choices on their place of residence or shop-owners are setting up their establishments in central areas, and the sizes of shop units. Different transport services and their mainstreaming also affect the demand and location of convenience shops. In rural areas, however, having a car is necessary because of long distances.

Finland’s recent development

Population development, urbanisation and shop steering particularly affect where shops are located. Transport solutions also play a role, which is why land use can be used to steer the location of shops.

Two development trends can be seen in the accessibility of shops in the last decade. Trade is increasingly focused on larger units, and the liberalisation of business opening hours, which entered into force at the beginning of 2016, has increased visits to large shops, while many small shops have ended their operations. Small urban and rural areas have particularly suffered from the deterioration of the accessibility of trade as the population has declined and the trade has concentrated to areas with good transport connections. The location of the shops is particularly important for the development of the urban structure in small municipalities: as shops move outside the city centre, other central operations are also taken to where the shops are located. This leads to a decline in the vitality of urban centres, the accessibility of trade will deteriorate by walking and car dependency will increase.

On the other hand, urbanisation and supplementary construction of urban centres have improved the accessibility of shops. In addition, a legislative amendment on directing trade to city centres and the centres of residential areas, which entered into force in 2017, has promoted the accessibility of convenience shop services. Different changes in values, population structure and the operating environment, such as the ageing of the population, increase of the number of small households, changes in the service culture, and ecological aspects and a decline in car use in urban centres, have influenced the focus on urban centres of trade. Planning the questions of land use, housing, transport and service as a whole is important, particularly in urban areas. It is also important to take the differences between regions into account in the steering of trade. 

Other observations related to the indicator

In the indicator, dense urban areas correspond to the area with a local detailed plan in terms of construction efficiency. The interpretation of the indicator is hampered by the fact that easy shopping opportunities together with advertising can also encourage environmentally loading consumption that is questionable from the perspective of sustainable development.

Slightly under 6,000 people live in significant flood risk areas in Finland

Figure: Number of inhabitants in significant flood risk areas. (Source: Ministry of the Environment)

The flood risk management indicator shows how communities have adapted to changes in weather and water conditions and extreme phenomena caused by climate change. The indicator is part of the anticipation of weather and climate risks to health, infrastructure and safety. The indicator shows how many people live in significant flood risk areas. During the years on record, there have been changes to the major flood risk areas concerning the boundaries of the areas and the knowledge basis. Significant flood risk areas are also reassessed once every six years, the most recently in 2018, and this may mean that there are major changes in the number of people living in the areas.

Finland’s current situation

In 2019, 5,872 people lived in significant flood risk areas in Finland. In total, there are 100 areas where a rise in the surface of water bodies or sea water may cause flood damage. Flood risk is serious in 22 of these areas, and 17 of them are located along inland waterways and five on the coast. The number of inhabitants has remained fairly stable over the last five years, at close to 6,000 inhabitants. The greatest risks are caused by flooding of inland waters in Pori and Rovaniemi. In the Helsinki Metropolitan Area, a long-term risk is caused by rising sea water levels. Flood protection, for example in the Vartiokylänlahti in Helsinki, has reduced the number of people living in significant flood risk areas. At present, the risk of flooding is taken into account fairly well in construction. The low figures for 2013 are explained by the fact that accurate flood maps were not available in each significant area.

Goal 11 of the 2030 Agenda aims at safe and sustainable cities and residential communities. Target 1.5 of the agenda also aims to improve the adaptability of disadvantaged people and to reduce vulnerability to climate-related extreme phenomena in target 1.5. As a result of climate change, extreme weather phenomena will increase, and sea and waterway floods will become more common in the long term. There is also need to prepare for storm water floods caused by heavy rainfall. Finland’s goal is to reduce the number of residents in flood risk areas or keep it at the current level. Indeed, measures such as preventing construction should gradually reduce the number of inhabitants. Achieving the goal is slowed down by the existing permanent building stock and the fact that flood risk areas are popular places of residence, for example due to their location. In fact, all new construction of residential buildings should take into account flood risks and protection if there is an intent to construct buildings in flood risk areas. In addition to preventing construction and taking protective measures, other approaches include providing residents with instructions in advance in case of floods and raising awareness of floods. These measures increase preparedness for flood risk, even though they do not affect the values of the indicator.

Finland’s recent development

Preparing for floods and risk management is ensured by focusing construction outside flood risk areas, by investing in the detention of flood waters in catchment areas and by warning residents about floods. The national land use targets specify that the flood risk should be taken into account in land use planning. In cities, storm water floods caused by heavy rains can be prevented by increasing the number of green spaces and water areas and other surfaces that delay water flow. In agriculture and forestry, taking care of plant cover and utilising wetlands and mires as equalizers for water flows help in managing floods. Building condition surveys and risk assessments provide tools for preparing for flood prevention.

Other observations related to the indicator

The indicator describes a significant flood risk the statistical recurrence of which is once every 100 years (unless the significance is caused by a flood type other than flood in open water, e.g. flooding caused by ice). The indicator takes into account the inhabitants living in areas of potential flood hazards whose accommodation has not been permanently protected against a flood. The indicator values are affected by the development of flood survey methods, updating and correcting spatial data, the size and borders of flood risk areas, and changes in the probability of floods and vulnerability of the affected areas.


The built environment creates a framework for several sustainable development goals. In addition to housing, the development of communities affects both industry, transport and energy production, and well-functioning communities are a prerequisite for a sustainable economy. Overall, any changes related to the development of communities occur slowly, even though the locally built environment may change rapidly due to new construction or demolition.

Changes implemented to indicators

1.    The indicator has the same information as in the previous review.
2.    The indicator has been updated.
3.    The indicator has been updated and several time series have been changed alongside the average for urban regions to reflect differences between large, medium-sized and small urban regions.
4.    The indicator has been updated with the most recent available data.

The indicators have been updated with the most recent available data.

Elina Nyberg, Finnish Environment Institute