Urban-rural classification

Information regarding regional development in Finland has traditionally been gathered on the basis of statistical data from the administrative regions. The divisions of urban and rural areas have been based on a classification system that recognizes different types of municipalities. This worked well in an era when the physical size of the municipalities was small, but current municipality structural reforms encourage larger municipalities. This has led to a situation where there are areas within the same municipality that have an urban character and other areas that are rural. This is why more detailed information is needed concerning the urban-rural continuum. The new urban-rural classification system uses geographical information calculated using 250 x 250 metre statistical squares. The classification has recently been updated and in addition to 2010 it is also available from 2018.


Need for new classification

Geographical information systems (GIS) with extensively detailed, register-based datasets introduce new insights into the process of classifying urban and rural areas. The independence of administrative borders makes it possible to recognise and classify areas in greater detail than before. The new classification system replaces the previously used urban-rural regional classification system and the trisection of rural areas, which were based on municipal boundaries.

Materials for classification

The classification system has been implementedusing source material that covers the entire country. The material is based on precise geographical information. The calculations are made primarily in a grid of 250 x 250 metres, which is also the resolution at which the material is classified on the map. Population, labour, commute and building data, as well as DIGIROAD road network data and Corine Land Cover data, were used as source material. Based on the data, variables describing the amount, density, efficiency, accessibility, intensity, versatility and orientation of the areas have been calculated. The areas have been divided into seven classes based on a variety of analyses using these variables and the classification rules.

Seven regional classes

The classification system is implemented using a nationwide 250 x 250 m grid of cells. Each cell is categorized into one of seven classes according to the defined criteria.

Urban areas

The population centres of urban areas are agglomerations with more than 15 000 residents. Each of these agglomerations consists of a core urban area, which is then divided into an inner and outer urban area. Surrounding the core urban area is a peri-urban area.

1. Inner urban area
A compact and densely built area with continuous development.

2. Outer urban area
A dense urban area extending from the boundary of the inner urban area to the outer edge of the continuous built area.

3. Peri-urban area
A part of the intermediate zone between urban and rural, which is directly linked to an urban area.

Rural areas

different rural types are delineated for the areas that have not been identified as urban. The boundary between urban and rural areas is not unambiguous. The classification framework has been designed to be flexible, which makes it possible to identify an intermediate zone between urban and rural that can be examined as its own whole. This can be done, for instance, by combining two classes, the peri-urban area and rural areas close to urban areas.

4. Local centres in rural areas
Population centres located outside urban areas.

5. Rural areas close to urban areas
Areas with a rural character that are functionally connected and close to urban areas.

6. Rural heartland areas
Rural areas with intensive land use, with a relatively dense population and a diverse economic structure at the local level.

7. Sparsely populated rural areas
Sparsely populated areas with dispersed small settlements that are located at a distance from each other. Most of the land areas are forested.

How can the classification be used?

The classification system is freely available on the website in the form of a GIS dataset. Related statistical data calculated at the municipal level can also be downloaded. Other GIS datasets can be combined with the seven classes of the urban-rural classification system on the basis of location. The classification information can also be attached to other GIS datasets as feature data.

The urban-rural classification system primarily depicts differences between areas at the level of the regional structure. The classification system does not describe in great detail the characteristics of a particular location as it characterises the areas. The borders of the area categories have been generalised in such a way that the classification system is best for examining broader areas. The classification system makes it possible to identify different developments at the regional and national level.

The geographical information-based area classification system has been created by the Finnish Environment Institute and the Department of Geography of the University of Oulu in cooperation with the Ministry of Employment and the Economy, the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry and Statistics Finland.

Further information

Head of Unit Ville Helminen, Finnish Environment Institute SYKE

Updated urban-rural classification: Finland’s degree of urbanisation currently at over 72 per cent 2020-05-29
According to the updated urban-rural classification, more than 72 per cent of the Finnish population now reside in the urban areas of the country. The degree of urbanisation has increased more than two percentage points between years 2010 and 2018.
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Published 2014-03-18 at 10:11, updated 2021-08-26 at 14:46