The major news in Umeå today is research that shows that a surprising number of Swedish residents are open to moving to Norrland — and Umeå in particular. The study, ordered by the state mining company LKAB, showed that about 1/3 of central and southern Swedish residents could “imagine or consider a move” to Norrbotten, the county just north of Västerbotten. More relevantly for Umeå, the city is by far the preferred destination of potential movers to the north. 42% of respondents said that they’d move to Umeå, with Luleå considerably behind at 27%, and Skellefteå at 14%. Young people are much more open to moving north — 42% — as compared to only 23% of those aged 50-64.
There are strong regional differences between if and why people from other parts of Sweden would move north. Stockholmers, the survey showed, are looking for cheaper housing. Smålanders think that they have a better chance at employment in the north. Southern Swedes are the most hesitant; 40% of them (compared to 35% nationally) said that no money in the world could persuade them to move to Norrland. In addition to housing and jobs, the proximity of nature, and generally a better work-life balance, are reasons that people imagine moving to our region.
There is a remarkable gender difference in willingness to move north: 38% of women would absolutely not move here, but only 26% of men. This seems to contradict evidence that shows that women, more than men, value companies which are committed to environmental sustainability, which, the researchers say, characterizes industry in northern Sweden in particular.
Why is this study important to Umebor? It shows that the region (despite being cold) is a hot destination for young Swedish residents. This makes it more realistic for the Kommun to achieve its stated aim of raising its population to 200 thousand people by the year 2050. That’s increasing, by two-thirds, the current population of 130 thousand. This means that Umeå might generally need to build much more housing and facilities, and expand its urban footprint — which may be seen as contradictory to the hopes of new arrivals who come here for proximity to nature and environmentalism in general.
If you ask average Umebor on the street what they think of the expansion to 200 thousand, you’ll get mixed opinions. Some people are, for example, disappointed that developers seem to be making progress on turning half of the now bucolic Ön in the Ume River into a new “Manhattan”, with high-rise housing and some 6000 residents. However, the arguments against this expansion seem to be under-represented in the press, and in public dialogue in general in Umeå. If you try to google for articles or opinion pieces which oppose the 200 thousand plan, you won’t find it easy to get results.
So, on the issue of Umeå’s expansion, there does seem to be a lack of continuous democratic dialogue in the city. This is not to say that the expansion is or is not the right thing to do; it’s not up to Umeå Today to make a judgement like that. However, we can say that for Umebor who oppose the development, now is the time to express that opinion, to local politicians, construction companies, the press, and so forth. Otherwise, these plans will simply continue to be pushed through the city leadership, and the building will just keep on going. Of course, if you like the development, it’s your democratic right (and perhaps duty) to say so, as well. Today’s survey, showing how much young Swedish residents would, in fact, like to move to Umeå, only adds pressure to the city’s development plans, and to the urgency of this conversation.