Different patterns of urban population change can be identified in the BSR, varying from population growth to stagnation and decline. Overall, the cities in Central and Eastern part of the BSR witness the strongest decline in population (both small cities and capitals) due to natural population decline and migration. In contrast, cities in the Nordic countries experience the highest population growth recently (State of European Cities Report 2007).
In the VASAB LTP background document, the challenges related to demographic changes are highlighted with regard to development of small and medium sized cities in the BSR. A considerable fall in the share of population of productive age and younger (those below 45 years old) and an increase in the share of elderly population is a trend common for many cities and rural areas in the BSR.
Looking at the latest trends in population development in the BSR after the economic crisis (2008-2011), population increase is mainly taking place in the metropolitan areas of the western BSR, while cities in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland are experiencing a population decrease. Cities experiencing the most pronounced urbanization are Stockholm and Oslo, while large German cities experience a moderate increase.
Most of the regions in Latvia and Lithuania, including urban areas, registered population decrease (2008-2011). Also in Estonia there seem to be a decline in urban population. Statistically this is true, and there has been decline of population inside the city limits in e.g. Tallinn and Tartu. However the interpretation that these cities are actually shrinking is too simplistic – both city regions in Estonia (Tallinn and Tartu) are actually growing. They have just gone through a different stage of urbanisation – suburbanisation and urban sprawl. So statistically the population inside city limits has decreased but population in the greater metropolitan area has grown during this period.
For Warsaw the trend is negative for the period 2008-2011, but a slight positive population growth was observed in 2012, and hence a change is taking place. St Petersburg and Minsk (as well as some other Belarussian cities) show a positive population trend for the period considered, including 2012. This is interesting since in the past the development has been the opposite, e.g. in Nordregio Report 2005:01 St. Petersburg was one of the cities experiencing a negative population change 1995-2001. Trends in population development (2008-2012) show some population decrease for some German cities, while in the recent years (2010-12) this negative trend seems to be reversed.