Global Communities and society, Economy and regeneration, Housing and planning

Depopulation: Case studies and resources for local government


Old traditional closed store by the street in Miyazaki, Japan. Taken in August 2019.

Curated case studies and news from around the globe highlighting some of the innovative ways municipalities facing depopulation are fighting back, plus the best and most practical reports on the topic. Examples this week come from Finland, Italy and Japan, plus research from Europe, Australia and the U.S.

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Policy innovation and inspiration examples from the local government sector

Finland: Incentive schemes target young residents
Rural municipalities across Finland have been piloting various schemes to convince their young residents to stay local. As is the case in many industrialised nations, students often leave the countryside for larger cities for higher education. Yet in Finland, this often starts at the high school level. To tackle this, local authorities have been getting creative. Municipalities such as Merikarvia, Paltamo and Puolanka now offer to pay for the driving license courses of high school students, which on average cost about 1,000 euros. Other towns such as Rautjärvi provide free-of-charge student accommodation, while the municipalities of Pomarkku, Vesanto and Pihtipudas are granting 1,000-euro scholarships to high-school graduates. The towns piloting these schemes are all home to only a few thousand residents at most and have been hit hard by the exodus of high school-age residents.
The Mayor

Italy: How forgotten towns are seeking to reverse depopulation
Across Italy, towns with dwindling populations are taking drastic measures to stem the tide of depopulation. Much has been written in recent years of towns like Petralia Soprana, Sicily, which offers grants of up to 5,000 euros for people to move into one of their uninhabited houses. Would be residents would have to acquire and/or renovate one of these properties, with the grand covering 75% of costs. In Presicce Acquarica, home to some 10,000 residents, local authorities launched a campaign offering 30,000 euro grants for anyone who decides to buy a house and make it their official address. The council has marked 30% of the local housing stock as eligible for the grant, and offers a 1,000 euro bonus for babies born in the town too. Meanwhile, in the north-western municipality of Asti, the winemaking town has managed to start to reverse depopulation through agriculture and refugee projects.
The Mayor (1/2/3)

Japan: Newcomers sought in vanishing rural towns
The prospect of “marginal villages” vanishing in a few decades is a very real prospect for many towns across Japan. An ageing population, declining birthdate and rising demand for social services has created the shoushikoureika phenomenon, where Japan is set to lose up to a third of its population by 2065. This depopulation would be disastrous for rural towns, with 869 municipalities – nearly half the national total – at risk of vanishing by 2040 if current trends continue, rising to 80% in some jurisdictions over the next 40 years. Yet some of these marginal villages are fighting back, deploying aggressive, locally inspired approaches to roll back this trend. Some, such as the remote town of Kanna, are leveraging their striking natural surroundings and local heritage to boost tourism. Its springtime festival draws more than 20,000 visitors yearly. 480 miles away, the city of Izumo is seeking to ensure its long-term viability via foreign recruitment, particularly Portuguese speakers. It launched a multicultural living promotion plan in 2016, which sought to increase the number of long-term foreign residents in Izumo to 30% by 2021, specifically Brazillian-born Japanese residents.

Resources to help run our elections

Old file folders books

Resource: Increasing or declining urban populations – the future of cities
This EU Science Hub resource outlines the struggles an ageing Europe will face regarding declining populations in cities. Over half of European cities will see their population decline, with some, like small cities in Spain, Bulgaria, Latvia and Lithuania, will see a loss of more than 25%. The related report explores the rejuvenation of abandoned inner-city areas, adapting services and infrastructure to an older population, and the optimisation of public space.

Report: Depopulation and associated challenges for US cities by 2100
It’s a similar story in the United States. Research published in the journal Nature Cities predicts that by the year 2100, approximately half of the 30,000 cities in the U.S. will lose up to a quarter of their residents. This report examines the impact of depopulation on infrastructure, and how underutilised and abandoned infrastructure can become a hazard and lead to disruptions to basic services like transit, clean water, electricity and internet access.

Report: Regional migration and settlement: putting down roots to revitalise regional communities in Australia
This policy brief shines a light on policy solutions to address the issue of population decline in regional Australian communities. The report draws on research into refugee settlement in Armidale, New South Wales, as well as insights from successful approaches used in Canada in settling and retaining newcomers outside of major cities. It examines how regional areas can help newcomers and local receiving communities develop lasting ties.

Resource: How to tackle population decline in Europe’s regions?
This resource from the European Parliament explores the causes and potential solutions to population decline in Europe’s regions, particularly in rural areas. It suggests that addressing depopulation requires a multi-faceted approach that includes promoting rural tourism, creating jobs, improving connectivity, and investing in public services.

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