Residential Preferences and Quality of Life

By Petri Kahila and Stefanie Lange Scherbenske

Residential preferences play a crucial role in quality of life. People's preferences when choosing their place of residence and conducting their daily activities are closely related to quality of life. A case study from the Turku Urban Region in Finland shows that individuals have individual perceptions of quality of life. Because people do not share social, environmental, or physical preferences, planners and developers must consider this as they plan new residential areas.

Improving quality of life has become a policy goal at the regional, national and EU levels. Good quality of life is important to people and is connected to the overall attractiveness of a city or region. Because there are individual perceptions of quality of life, individual preferences are increasingly important in regional development and planning. For instance, the rationales upon which inhabitants choose their place of residence have changed over time, and how they pursue their (daily) life activities has come to the attention of developers and planners. Furthermore, because people may, for example, work in a city centre and live in the surrounding region, they challenge administrative borders and eventually demand an integrated planning approach that addresses quality of life issues. However, quality of life is a broad concept that lacks a common definition, making it difficult to implement.

In 2009, the NEW BRIDGES project was initiated with the primary objective of operationalizing the concept of quality of life by including individual perceptions in spatial planning and regional development. The project offered an opportunity for policymakers to initiate new measures and processes to improve quality of life for people in the community. Eight local and regional planning authorities facilitated implementation processes in seven urban areas in the Baltic Sea Region (BSR). The project was partly financed by the European Union (European Regional Development Fund) through the Baltic Sea Region Programme 2007–2012, the Finnish Ministry of Environment, and other partners (project website

Residential preferences in the quality of life concept

In the NEW BRIDGES project, Nordregio developed guidelines, co-ordinated case studies and facilitated transnational learning processes. The concept of quality of life was operationalized through three key elements: residential preferences, accessibility and mobility, and provision of services. Individuals are now both willing and able to commute longer distances to satisfy their residential preferences. More often than not, quality of life issues underlie decisions about where to live. Because individual residential preferences are one of the most important factors in regional development for better quality of life, we elaborate on these further.

By pursuing everyday activities, people challenge the current levels of services; they call for better accessibility and demand a wide variety of residential choices. We argue that residential choices are the result of several processes, and depend on households' economic, social and cultural resources.

In residential preferences, the influence of different lifestyles and stages of life have to be taken into account. People experience a variety of local circumstances (e.g., rural or urban environments) in different ways and value characteristics to varying extents. Furthermore, growing similarities between 'urban' and 'rural' areas offer unique and attractive combinations and opportunities to choose from and experience new kinds of lifestyles.

In decisions to move from one residential environment to another, changes in household or employment situation undoubtedly play an important role. In addition, stable preferences for particular residential environments influence the decision to move. Other key issues are the perceived opportunities and restrictions concerning a person's activities in a given environment/neighbourhood/city, and the emotional, social, and socio-economic opportunities and restrictions an environment offers. In practice, a new residential area needs something with which a person may identify, and should offer opportunities that the person desires.

The characteristics of desirable residential areas in urban areas are usually identified by broad descriptions such as quiet, green, safe or spacious. These are mostly questions of interpretation and socio-cultural traditions in a particular region, whether these areas are considered urban or rural. Expressed preferences for specific residential areas have an important influence on decisions regarding choice of new places of residence.

Residential preferences in the Turku Urban Region

The Turku Urban Region was one of the seven case studies in the NEW BRIDGES project. The Turku Urban Region case study was conducted by the City of Turku and the Regional Council of Southwest Finland. The Turku Urban Region is a formalized co-operation network between 14 municipalities and the City of Turku.

The focus of the case study was municipal co-operation in relation to residential preference and a survey (Vasanen, Antti 2010) conducted in the Turku Urban Region. The survey was sent to 3000 residents and asked: "What kinds of characteristics do residents prefer in the Turku Urban Region?" One third of the recipients responded and the results of the survey were used to initiate new measures to improve quality of life in the Turku Urban Region.

According to the survey, inhabitants generally value closeness to nature and access to public services and shops. People who can meet the expenses of moving to the better and more expensive areas are attracted by proximity to rural environments in the municipalities around the City of Turku. However, municipalities implement individual policies to attract new residents, resulting in the neighbouring municipalities of the City of Turku attracting people with greater economic resources.

The survey also showed that residential choices are clearly a combination of various factors, in which can be included household characteristics and structure, age, education level, place of employment and familiarity with the new place of residence or the socio-economic situation. Quality of life in a residential environment is therefore an individual decision, but for planners and developers it is more strongly related to a group of people. Not all individuals share social, environmental and physical preferences for conditions. This is the main challenge for planners and developers to consider as they plan new residential areas.

Issues related to quality of life in planning and development of residential areas in the Turku Urban Region are normally considered in municipal strategies for recreation, safety and access to services. However, the regional aspects of the whole Turku Urban Region have not been fully considered. Neighbouring municipalities mostly have their own starting points in planning residential areas, which has to some extent led to a scattered residential structure. There is an obvious need for overarching cross-border planning of residential areas between these municipalities. This is important to achieve the sustainable development of residential infrastructures in the whole Turku Urban Region. Issues related to the provision of local services and effective public transport are particularly crucial for inter-municipal co-operation and planning.

Conclusion and outlook

In the urban–rural context, crucial issues for residential preferences are the provision of services and recreation, which are closely connected to mobility and accessibility. The results of the survey in the Turku Urban Region confirmed that there is a logical relationship between the level of urbanity/rurality and residential development. The emergence of intermediate areas between the city and its rural vicinities generates uniform housing patterns and thereby reduces variety of residential options on the borders of urban and rural areas. As an illustration of this point, the Turku Urban Region survey revealed the need for increased inter-municipal co-operation in planning residential areas.

Quality of life is generally an individual perception. Therefore, the NEW BRIDGES project pursued an involvement approach addressing individual interests and those of various groups. The working group meetings organized in the Turku Urban Region were helpful in providing information about the local perspectives on residents' issues related to quality of life. The local stakeholder meetings provided municipal authorities and stakeholders with opportunities to discuss and to obtain information about residential planning issues. Specifically, the main issues discussed in the meetings were the planning of new residential areas and accessibility, as well as the provision and usage of services across municipal borders.

A shift to a quality of life-based approach in spatial planning and development policy may offer a balance between individual preferences and policy efforts. This is attractive to policymakers concerned with sustainable development and smart growth, and to residents increasingly concerned about issues such as public safety, air quality and peaceful neighbourhoods.

In the Turku Urban Region, the NEW BRIDGES project demonstrated that co-operation between various actors is an important method to structure conventional residential planning and make it more far-sighted and collective. There was also a recognizable positive aspect to enhanced inter-municipal co-operation in residential planning issues. An integrative approach to quality of life can aid the sustainable planning of residential areas that pays attention to mobility and accessibility, residential preferences and provision of services.


Vasanen, Antti (2010). Asumispreferenssit Turun kaupunkiseudulla. New Bridges ‐hankkeen tuloksia

Back to Nordregio News Issue 3, 2012