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Factors of attraction and urban planning

This study set out to investigate potential planning implications of remote work in smaller towns, which however, proved difficult. In none of the five towns included in the study were there any evident planning responses directly related to remote or hybrid workers. Instead, measures taken to improve town attractiveness were said to include also multilocal populations. In Kongsvinger, remote work trends also inspired a more proactive approach to housing development. Looking ahead, several respondents pointed to the importance of infrastructure that facilitates a multilocal life, especially high-quality public transport and digital connectivity. Further, housing that fits the needs and tastes of new inhabitants, including potential multilocal populations, was considered. Discussions on the potential of co-working spaces were present in all towns, and there were already established co-working spaces in four of them. Below, we outline factors that were mentioned as important for attracting new workers and residents. Thereafter, we cover in more detail the three areas which were pointed out as particularly relevant to remote workers—physical and digital infrastructure, housing, and co-working spaces.

Small town attractiveness

When people decide to relocate to a new town, the attractiveness of the town can play a significant role in relocation decisions. Whereas the term urban attractiveness is subjective and the literature points to a multifaceted concept (chapter "Key terms and definitions"; Hidman, 2018), there seems to be agreement on what constitutes an attractive small town in the five case towns in this study, as more or less the same town features were brought up as important for urban attractivity.
Measures to maintain attractive features of town centres and to improve them, creating more lively urban cores, have been taken in all towns. Here, Hvolsvöllur stands out with the construction of a completely new town centre (Image 2). The historical centres of Ekenäs and Kalundborg greatly add to the attractiveness in these towns, although Kalundborg works towards improving the supply of services in the core in competition with nearby box stores and a mall along the major thoroughfare (Image 3). Oxelösund has chosen to build out its modernist centre by adding both commercial spaces and housing (Image 5). The dispersed centre of Kongsvinger with a mix of old and new, small and large buildings was also discussed as an area of potential improvement (Image 4).
katherine-hanlon-xaG8oaZD7ss-unsplashdfdggf.jpgImage 2. The town centre of Hvolsvöllur. (Source: Hvolsvöllur municipality)
Image 3. The main shopping street in Kalundborg features buildings of historical importance. (Source: Anna Granath Hansson)
Image 4. The town centre of Kongsvinger is a mix of styles and concepts. (Source: Anna Granath Hansson)
Image 5. The modernist town centre of Oxelösund.(Source: Anna Granath Hansson)
Interviewees agreed that the more time people spend in the town, the more likely they are to use local services, which has direct impact on service supply.  These services may also be affected by the presence of remote workers and other multilocal populations. Moreover, density is associated with positive impacts on urban life and service supply. Therefore, housing construction is partially steered towards more central parts of towns, although single-family housing also has its given place. The attractiveness and price of housing is deemed to be a key factor in retaining and attracting individuals. Interviewees in all towns described efforts to plan for and construct types of housing that were deemed to be missing in the towns at present. New, higher standard multi-family housing has recently been built or is under construction in central parts of Kongsvinger, Kalundborg, and Oxelösund (Image 10), and there are plans for new single-family homes in all five towns.
Planners and marketing officers identified proximity to nature, such as the sea, lakes, and forests, and recreational activities associated with nature, as key attractions in all towns (Image 6 and 7). Access to nature and leisure activities is actively promoted in planning as these are seen as competitive advantages compared to larger towns and cities. However, several of the respondents pointed to competition from other smaller towns and do not perceive their specific town as better equipped in this respect than many other towns.  Urban greenery, often in the form of a private garden, is also seen as a major attraction. Further, parks, green squares, and public space on waterfronts were part of active town planning in all towns but Hvolsvöllur. Further, the planners and marketing officers stated that a diverse supply of leisure activities and culture was important, especially in the industrial towns of Oxelösund and Kalundborg where such supply was not taken for granted. One interviewee pointed to the importance of leisure activities for the integration of newcomers into the existing society.
Image 6. Closeness to nature and recreation opportunities are part of small town attractiveness, here displayed in the view from the fortress in Kongsvinger. (Source: Anna Granath Hansson)