The Question of Quality

This issue of Nordregio News approaches the quality of life discussion from an urban-rural perspective. In doing so, we address the essential question of choice and preference for place of residence; i.e. peoples' individual experiences of quality of life in urban-rural environments. A core question is how and to what extent individual perspectives on quality of life are applied to regional planning and development?

The debate on quality of life has probably been one of the most common topics during human history. Societal issues – like our neighbourhood – strongly affect our personal quality of life. A longstanding question within the topic is if quality of life should be perceived from an individual point of view, or if quality of life should be seen from the society's point of view. The question of subjective and objective viewpoint is still crucial not only in social planning but also in the planning of urban-rural environments.

Nordic social policy has traditionally focused on material resources as a means to achieve wellbeing. One part of this has been regional development policies where, for instance, politicians have been able to shape settlement patterns based on the level of public services that are provided in different areas of the country. In practice this means e.g. tackling the question if people should live in cities or in countryside?

The state previously had a strong, guiding role in the implementation of welfare politics. Recently however, the role of individuals has superseded the welfare state and more emphasis is now placed on individual responsibilities and rights. In the case of Finland for example, regional development has shifted away from big national programs that were geared toward the strong political and shared will to keep the whole country liveable. These have been replaced by smaller, more localized projects where individual choice is put in focus, even if this means that people prefer to live in bigger cities.

Many individuals at some stage find themselves questioning the advantages and disadvantages of settling in urban or rural areas. The differences between the two mean that individual perceptions on quality of life are at the centre of any comparison between urban and rural living. Essential factors such as the capacity to make choices, health, economy and employment concerns all influence both sides of the comparison. We may say that urban and rural areas are generally alike in terms of human interaction but differ extensively when quality of life is the issue. Therefore, improving quality of life is not solely a question of equity, but also more and more a crucial aspect of strategies aiming at attracting people and investments.

We have to put quality of life into a broader perspective within the framework of urban-rural interaction. Addressing quality of life in urban-rural interaction is appropriate as it connects to the overall attractiveness of a region and touches upon the individual preferences of the people living in the region. Enabling higher quality of life is the main component in the development of attractive and competitive cities and regions in Europe. Successful environments have to allow people to develop and apply a broad range of talents in their own and also professional lives.

Thus far, the efforts undertaken and the methods used in respect of the management of quality of life in the framework of urban-rural interaction have been rather limited. The challenge for planners and policy makers is to link micro-level interactions to macro-level processes. It is important to reflect individual preferences regarding quality of life related issues in a daily perspective and generate (new) locally adapted solutions and methods of policy-making within the context of urban-rural interaction.

In the first article Residential Preferences and Quality of Life Petri Kahila and Stefanie Lange-Scherbenske discuss the question of residential preferences and quality of life. They give an overview of how people reflect on quality of life when choosing their place of residence. The article is based on outcomes of a case study which was implemented in the Turku Urban Region as a part of the NEW BRIDGES project.

Efficiency of public administration and vitality of rural areas is repeatedly related to the discussion on provision of public services. Self-governing in rural areas is also an important question, often linked to the decentralization-centralization processes. Jörgen Møller considers these questions from a Danish perspective in his article Big Changes in the Local Welfare System. He underlines the need for reconsidering the traditional village and paying attention to diversity.

We hope you enjoy reading this issue of Nordregio News!

Petri Kahila and Sakari Kainulainen


and the Editorial Board

Back to Nordregio News Issue 3, 2012