Estonian living environment in 2050
- Future changes will affect the physical space – both the natural and built environment – and redistribute it based on new uses.
Changes in the living environment are related to changes in the world and our ability to adapt to them. Factors influencing the development of our living environment include climate change, international corporations and politics, new technologies and services, as well as the ageing population and urbanisation. In reshaping our living environment, we must bear in mind that we cannot reverse what is already done as this would take decades, be costly and complicated. Therefore, choices affecting the living environment must rest on an understanding of the long-term impact on the quality of the living environment.
- Estonia faces a spatial choice: either to continue developing a liberal living environment with amenities only for those who are financially unburdened or to develop a more inclusive living environment that focuses on improving well-being for all.
To aid in this choice, four scenarios are presented in this chapter that illustrate the changes taking place in the world and in Estonia, along with their consequences. The scenarios are narratives that help us envision the future and provide a common basis for discussing it. With the help of these scenarios, we invite the reader to think about the kind of living environment we wish to inhabit in the future, and the kinds of futures we want to avoid.
The previous chapters of this report have described changes that have occurred over the past 30 years in the ways we communicate, travel and live, in our location preferences and our relationship to the natural environment. What will our living environment look like over the next 30 years? This chapter aims to outline the potential futures of the Estonian living environment based on global, regional and local trends and policy choices, and to use these factors to draft four future scenarios. The scenarios themselves are tools for thinking that illustrate the changes taking place in Estonia and the world, along with their consequences.
A thought exercise: current topics 30 years ago (1987–1988)
- Phosphorite rises on the agenda, specifically the plan to open a large-scale phosphorite mine in the Rakvere district, which would pollute the environment.
- The Estonian Green Movement is founded in the course of two green forums in Tallinn on 28 April and 23 May 1988.
- The Estonian Heritage Society is founded in Tallinn on 12 December 1987, with Trivimi Velliste as chairman.
- On 6 December 1987, the 500,000th citizen of Tallinn is born.
- The first computer virus appears and there is initial discussion of the concept of the World Wide Web.
With the help of these scenarios, we invite the reader to think about the kind of world we wish to inhabit in the future, and the kinds of future we want to avoid. How are we able to adapt to global developments as well as future challenges inside Estonia? The chapter consists of three parts. First, we provide an overview of the method and main principles of scenario planning. Then, we describe the main trends affecting the Estonian living environment. At the end of the chapter, we outline four future scenarios for the Estonian living environment.
What is scenario planning?
Scenario planning is a planning method that aims to understand the impact of current changes and decisions on shaping the future. A scenario is a tool for strategic thinking that is used in situations where preparing for the future and making decisions is necessary despite uncertainty. The scenarios outlined here are based on the method of intuitive logics, which uses existing predictions and data to create narratives about the future that illustrate the consequences of various developments (Wright et al. 2013).
The living environment is a distinctive field in scenario planning, because unlike technologies and services, it is slow to change. Rapid changes in the living environment involve large investments, which require money and political agreements. The living environment may be carefully planned, but the time it takes to implement these plans is generally long and real changes are slow to appear.
Factors influencing the development of the 21st-century living environment are climate change, international corporations and politics, new technologies and services, as well as the ageing population and urbanisation.
It is difficult to predict the role and impact that factors influencing the living environment have in shaping the future. Quantitative methods are used for measuring changes in various sectors, which do not provide an overview of how the living environment is changing as a whole. Changes in the living environment are related to changes in the world and our ability to adapt. Factors influencing the development of the 21st-century living environment are climate change, international corporations and politics, new technologies and services, as well as the ageing population and urbanisation. It is often difficult to grasp which of these carry the most weight or lead to unexpected and surprising consequences. For this reason, factors shaping the future are described on two levels – as forecasts and as weak signals. Various sectoral forecasts (e.g. population forecasts) are prepared by extending past and present trends into the future. Such predictions give us an idea of the potential future if the current situation continues, but ignore factors that may shift trends and the unexpected combined impact of sectoral trends in shaping the future (Thomas 1994).
For this reason, the concept of weak signals has been adopted in future studies, which means that in addition to forecasts, smaller changes that have the potential to shift future trajectories are also considered. Weak signals can be seen, for example, in the values of the younger generation: young people, with their current preferences in consumption and mobility, set the patterns of behaviour for the future. Although their wider impact cannot yet be demonstrated, weak signals are important indicators to examine, as they help discuss future changes, the actual impact of which may only become apparent decades later. In this chapter, we use both types of factor – forecasts, which are more likely to prove true, and weak signals, which may have a significant impact on the living environment, but cannot currently be backed with existing evidence.
The scenarios were prepared in three stages: aggregating sectoral changes, identifying the most likely or influential changes, and using future scenarios to illustrate the consequences of these changes. Sectoral changes were determined using forecasts, reports and scenarios from Estonia and elsewhere. Some global scenarios and forecasts were included, but most of the developments described in the chapter are based on the European context and values. As a second starting point, we used the changes discussed in the chapters of this report concerning the functioning and use of the deliberative space, the living environment and the natural environment over the past 30 years, along with potential future perspectives for these fields proposed by the authors of the articles. In order to identify the most likely and significant factors, workshops with chapter editors and sectoral experts were held. In these workshops, we selected two key directions for the future narratives and produced initial content for each scenario, focusing on the daily life of residents and their relations with one another. Following the workshops, we refined the descriptions of the changes with the greatest impact and wrote up future narratives to illustrate the scenarios. Two spatial levels were considered in the selection of the described future changes: first, a larger spatial scale on which changes affect the location of living environments and their interconnections throughout Estonia, and second, a smaller spatial scale that covers changes within the living environments. In identifying significant changes, we excluded extreme shifts such as the collapse of the European Union or natural disasters. We also expected Estonia to have retained its independence in 2050. Based on these inputs, we compiled the main trends that will have significant impact on (re)shaping the spatial living environment over the next 30 years.
The era of the ageing population and population decline in Estonia and elsewhere brings on a new situation that further deepens regional inequalities.
The UN has projected that Europe’s population will peak at 748 million by 2021 and start declining after that. Although population decline has occurred in only six world countries over the past 70 years, it is estimated that 90 countries, including two-thirds of all European countries, will face depopulation between 2020 and 2100 (Cilluffo and Ruiz 2019; United Nations 2019). According to Statistics Estonia’s baseline projection (2019), Estonia’s population will decrease to approximately 1.3 million by 2040 and to 1.2 million by 2060 (Figure 5.1). Estonian society is characterised by a large increase in the share of the elderly – it is projected that by 2040, every fourth person (25%) in Estonia will be more than 65 years of age, and in 2060 the share of the elderly will reach 30%. The elderly of the future are currently aged 25+ and their values and choice of location determine what they will be like in old age in 2060. According to the projection, the future picture of Estonia is centred on Harju and Tartu counties – by 2040, a minimum of 65% of the population will live in these two major urban areas. These two areas therefore also have the highest share of the working age population and the lowest share of the elderly (20–21%). The populations of all the other counties are declining: in Ida-Virumaa, Järvamaa, Valgamaa and Jõgevamaa counties, the population has decreased by at least a third and is older than the national average (Ida-Virumaa and Läänemaa counties have the largest share of the elderly: up to 40%).
Source: Statistics Estonia 2019.
The concentration of population in large cities and the continuous emptying of the rest of Estonia is driven by accelerating economic growth occurring in urban settlements.
In the second half of the last century, recession and industrial restructuring caused the rapid decline of great industrial cities, such as Detroit and Saint Louis, which lost more than half of their population, but also of many European cities, such as Manchester and Leipzig (Rumpel and Slach 2014). This century has seen a trend in several major cities, like Paris or New York, whereby urban areas have begun to grow at the expense of shrinking city centres, while other cities, such as Stockholm, Oslo and London, are projected to face steady population growth (Evans 2019; United Nations 2018). In the United States, regional disparities are exacerbated by the concentration of the innovation sector (IT and high-tech companies) into only five urban regions (Boston, San Francisco, San Jose, Seattle and San Diego), which account for 90% of sectoral growth and nearly a quarter of jobs (Atkinson et al. 2019). The growth rate in the urban areas of Tallinn and Tartu has for a long time exceeded that of other Estonian regions, and differences between socio-economic levels at the regional level have continuously increased. If in 1997 the GDP of Harjumaa county accounted for 55.2% of the total GDP in Estonia, then in 2007 it had reached 59.6% and in 2017 already 63.7% (Foresight Centre 2019). Although the advanced growth of the capital region can be considered a common phenomenon, the differences in the development of various regions in Estonia are among the largest in Europe (ibid.). Empirical measurements of the competitive advantage of cities (Rosenthal and Strange 2004) have shown that doubling the city’s population increases the productivity of the city by 3–8% and doubling the population density increases it by 5%. Doubling the city’s sphere of influence will add another 4.5%. Businesses follow the workforce and residents relocate to where there are opportunities to find work. It is useful for businesses in the same field to concentrate in one region (Laakso and Loikkainen 2018).
The growth rate in the urban areas of Tallinn and Tartu has for a long time exceeded that of other Estonian regions, and differences between socio-economic levels at the regional level have continuously increased.
As a rule, services (including new platforms) are provided and other investments made based on a cost-benefit analysis, which factors in a sufficient population size and density. From a market economy perspective, it is not viable to provide services in low-density areas, just as it is more difficult to obtain a loan for the acquisition or renovation of a dwelling in low-density and peripheral areas (McAfee and Brynjolfsson 2017). It has even been estimated that new mobility-as-a-service (MaaS) solutions that combine car rental, bicycle-sharing and public transport are not cost effective in urban regions with less than one million inhabitants (Sassiad 2019). Therefore, it is likely that population growth and innovation in the service economy will only reach growing urban areas, further aggravating the underdevelopment of declining or smaller regions. There is concurrent movement inside and between growing urban areas. Residents prefer to relocate to smaller, lower-density cities and settlements with lower housing prices (Thompson 2019). In Estonia, this trend is most visible in the Harju region where Tallinn offers jobs and services, but the biggest gain is made by small surrounding towns that can offer a better living environment as well as convenient and fast connections to the capital (Keila, Saue). The average income is already higher in the area around Tallinn than it is in the capital (Figure 5.2), and the social stratification between the population of the city centre and the surrounding areas (as well as between various city districts) may increase further in the future. Families with children are more likely to live outside the city and choose to locate to a new housing estate in the city outskirts (Raid and Tammur 2018). From these statistics, the movement of young families to the countryside, as well as the movement of the elderly from larger centres back to their former neighbourhoods, can also be detected as weak signals.
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