Resource deserts, village hierarchies and de-growth in sparsely populated areas: the case of Southern Lapland, Sweden



Small villages in northern Sweden have seen a continuing removal of key services, such as schools, shops and public transport, since the 1970s. Disinvestment in public services has not been strategically planned but has happened in response to population loss and increased costs on a case-by-case basis. More recently, there has been a shift in policy thinking to what might be termed a ‘de-growth’ approach where digitalisation and increased personal mobility are used to provide new ways of delivering services. The purpose of this paper is to examine the existence of ‘resource deserts’ in Southern Lapland and the emergence (or consolidation) of village hierarchies in allocating public services. We map out the distribution of neighbourhood services (grocery stores, pre-/schools and petrol pumps) among villages, and explore the lived experiences in accessing these resources in different villages. Our results show that resource deserts clearly exist in the south and east of the region, while villages in the more sparsely populated western mountain areas were generally in a better position to retain resources. We identify a lack of consistent and transparent service planning at the village level as a key shortcoming in municipal and regional service strategies. There appear to be unofficial settlement hierarchies in the differential treatment of villages that are otherwise similar in population size, population change and distance to central places. We find that political decisions on service allocations are likely influenced by several factors. These include legacy effects relating to historic settlement status, the location of villages in relation to key transport or mobility corridors, as well as ideological factors favouring villages with more ‘exotic’ features and development potential in line with the municipalities’ economic, social and political priorities. We finally argue that a shift to de-growth needs to be more strategically planned if it is to eliminate resource deserts and promote equity of service access across all villages.

How to Cite

Carson, D. B., Carson, D. A., Lundmark, L., & Hurtig, A.-K. (2023). Resource deserts, village hierarchies and de-growth in sparsely populated areas: the case of Southern Lapland, Sweden. Fennia - International Journal of Geography, 200(2), 210–227.