Department of Architecture

PROJECT RESULTS: Enhancing liveability in small shrinking and peripheral towns

Based on the analysis of the qualitative data we have collected during our fieldwork on local initiatives in peripheral, shrinking towns and in the mutual exchange and discussions, we can draw several main conclusions that we summarise here.


  • Local initiatives in shrinking towns are innovative and creative. They contradict the often found outside image of passive, dependent, and powerless actors of shrinking and deprived places. 
  • Peripheralization too often appears as a ‘natural’ process of decreasing population, resources and diminishing power. We found that the effects of global and regional uneven development is often naturalised, meaning taken for a normal effect, where we as scientists consider them a result of processes that are in fact structural effects of centralisation and global capitalism. 
  • The naturalisation of this process leads to the self-responsibilisation of volunteers who can be at risk of overburdening themselves by taking over services formerly provided by the state and municipality.  
  • Self-responsibilisation can imply that actors experience individual failure when services or community life cannot be kept open any longer even though, analytically, the loss stems from structural problems of peripheralization of issues out of their realm of power.
  • Local initiatives should not be mistaken for policy actors. Local initiatives should be viewed in the plurality of their motivation and forms of organisation. They can follow self- or group-interest in individual ways rather than being responsible for the fate of the municipality.
  • Even small initiatives can have a big impact. Shrinking towns with their limited resources, both financially and in terms of personnel, have a tendency to prioritise efforts in a way that may give low priority to new, small initiatives. But if they support such - in the beginning - seemingly small initiatives, such as the Cultural Collective Goetheschule in Lauscha and the Pessimists Association in Puolanka - such initiatives can contribute significantly to the image of the place.
  • Local initiatives in shrinking towns and regions deserve substantial support. Initiatives do not have to be profitable and economically self-sufficient as they provide services that stabilise places or hinder more accelerated decline. In the long run, this saves resources that would otherwise be needed to deal with the consequences. Thus, providing generous, non-bureaucratic support on a regional, national, or EU-level is well invested. 
  • There is no blueprint-solution that fits all places. Some projects’ success are based on their uniqueness and cannot be replicated elsewhere. An ongoing quest for best-practices has its limits.


Based on the discussion during the workshops in the two case study towns, we developed a set of recommendations and reflections for local practitioners and decision-makers in small shrinking towns - but maybe even more so for decision-makers on upper levels of governance. We hope that also other communities can learn from these discussions and use these outcomes while searching for solutions for their own challenges. 

How to support local initiatives?

  • Provide unconditional funding: Small, peripheralized municipalities most often do not have the capacities to attract the funding that could spur and secure livability and stabilise the community. Some suffer from long-term budget-cuts, even external budget-control, and are unable to finance a proportionate share of projects costs. Fund givers need to entrust initiatives rather than overburden them with control, respecting that they create added value to distressed localities.
  • Lobby for support by higher tiers of governance and avoid over-responsibilisation of local initiatives. The challenges shrinking towns and regions face are the result of structural processes on a national, even global level. It takes their support to deal with the challenges.
  • Provide help from fundraising professionals to local initiatives, and help them to apply for external funding for their projects. Activists who do not have fundraising skills could learn from professional fundraisers how to support their projects. Example: Pessimists association and EU funding analyzed in the master thesis of Ville Alasalmi
  • Provide training to initiatives to broaden their skillset to make their projects more sustainable. Example: In Germany NGO Kulturhanse supports local initiatives through workshops, knowledge share, networking, etc. 
  • Foster (international) exchange between places and local actors. Exchanges and mutual visits can create environments of inspiration, support skill-sharing and share of experiences. As a side effect, it supports seeing one's own situation in a different light, see one’s own strengths and better understand the limits - and where they originate. 
  • Strengthen a culture of recognition. Local initiatives ought to be actively supported with funding and resources. In addition, there is also a need for active practices of recognition, appreciation and attention.

How to strive for liveability of the place?

  • Enhance a variety of local initiatives to improve the stability of the place. Various groups of different ages and social backgrounds need help to develop their own initiatives, whether they are small or big. Embrace new and small initiatives and make room for change. 
  • Support cultural events that diversify local cultural life and enhance the liveability of the place. Various concerts, festivals and other cultural events attract visitors and increase the place attachment among local residents. Examples: Yearly food-festival ‘Mellichstöckdooch’ in Lauscha, Lanka festival and Pessimists musical in Puolanka
  • Open the place to outsiders, including internationals. A small shrinking town can benefit from new people coming to the locality. Promote the place as a locality attractive and supportive for different social groups (youth, young families, remote workers and elderly, migrants). Gather information about the social support available for different residents and distribute it among potential incomers. Examples: Benefits for youth and health care in Puolanka, Clay festival in Puolanka, International art residence in Lauscha.
  • Open available empty and abandoned buildings as a resource for engagement. Give them to associations and local initiatives. Lobby for financial support. Having a physical place is very important for the successful development of initiatives. Example: Goethe school cultural initiative in Lauscha as a collective project with wide reach (concerts, events, artist residence) that grew out of a few peoples' need for working spaces and workshops. The buildings in Puolanka Handicraft shops, Isa Asp-house
  • Support multilocality (living and working in several places) and see multi-locals, such as temporarily returning young people from the town, as a resource for the place. Adapt routines to fit their available time in order to keep them active members of local initiatives. Develop activities for different seasons and include multi-locals in community life.
  • Provide counselling about remote opportunities tailored to the needs of different social groups. Collect and systematise information on available remote services and resources, like distant learning, or remote jobs.



Adams, R.-M. (2022). Liveability under shrinkage in unsettling landscapes: Initiatives in the “Capital of Pessimism” in Northern Finland. American Anthropological Association Conference (AAA), Seattle, WA, November 12, 2022.

Adams, R.-M. (2022). Local initiatives as a driver for sustainability and livability of shrinking towns: A case study from the “capital of pessimism” (Puolanka, Northern Finland). American Association of Geographers Annual Meeting, New York, online, February 25, 2022.

Messerschmidt, S., Sandmann, L., Großmann, K. (2022). Local initiatives in shrinking small towns as acts of dignity? RC21 Conference, Athen.

Lilius, J. (2022). Pessimism as a way of life – Branding the “best worst’ dying town in Northern Finland. RC21 Conference, Athen.

Lilius, J. (2022). Pessimism as a way of life – Branding the “best worst’ dying town in Northern Finland. The City University New York (CUNY), 7th Oct 2022.


Adams, R.-M., Bolotova, A. & Alasalmi, V. (2022). Liveability under shrinkage: Initiatives in the “capital of pessimism” in Finland. European Planning Studies: 1-18.  [Link] 

Schmidt-Thomé, K. & Lilius, J. (2022). Smart shrinkage and multi-locality – The appeal of hope, illustrated through Puolanka, a rural municipality in Finland. Urban, Planning and Transport Research[Link]

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