City Barometer 2019

The City Barometer is a comparison of 67 Swedish medium to large city centers. We analyze how these city centers measure up against one other in terms of demography, the economy, the labor market, and education, among other criteria. The aim is to try to understand what creates an economically strong city center.


Mapping out the urban core

In the study, we defined the city center as a circle with its center point in the middle of the town. We then defined the demarcation by calculating walking routes of 750 meters (around 2,500 ft) from this center point. The aim was to map the composition and development of the town’s more central areas.


The study shows that the Sweden’s economically strongest city center is Jönköping. Some of the characteristics that the economically strongest urban cores share are a large population and that they are typically college towns. The least future-proof town is Falköping. The economically strong city centers are also expected to show a positive population trend in the coming years.

In addition, the study shows that the population in the city center generally accounts for just under 10 percent of the population of the municipality. On average, just over 40 percent have a higher level of education, and 23 percent are employed in the knowledge economy. The proportion of people employed in the knowledge economy is highest in Oskarshamn, where the share is nearly 50 percent. At the other extreme is Trelleborg, where only just over 8 percent of the population work in the knowledge economy. It is also worth noting that more than 40 percent of the population are employed in the public sector. There are relatively big differences between all the city centers. One factor that also has an impact is where the economic focal point of the municipality lies.

The study also maps the level of education in the city centers. Here too, variation between the cities is great: in Lund, for example, 78 percent of residents have a higher level of education, while the figure is only 26 percent in Katrineholm.

Mobility, or options for personal transportation, are another area of research. Here we found that accessibility to public transit in the municipalities as a whole is generally fairly good. Another aspect is how many households have cars in the city center. Car density is consistently lower in the city center than in the municipality as a whole. Car density is lowest in Lund and highest in Trollhättan.


Quick facts

Jönköping’s urban core has the highest City Barometer Index, of 77, followed by Karlstad (76) and Lund (75). At the bottom is Falköping, with an index of 31.


The population of the city center is less than 10 percent of the population of the municipality.

In Lund, 78 percent of the population in the city center have a higher level of education, compared to 26 percent of Katrineholm residents. The national average is 41 percent.


Proportion of people employed in various sectors. The highest proportion of people employed in street-level businesses is in the Visby city center, with 35 percent. The highest share of people employed in the knowledge economy was in Oskarshamn with 49 percent, and the greatest proportion of employees in public administration was in Västervik, where 66 percent are employed in that sector.

Lund has Sweden’s least car-dense urban core, where the proportion of cars is only 37 percent of the vehicle density in the municipality as a whole, followed by Södertälje (56%) and Norrköping (57%). Car density is higher in Trollhättan’s urban core (82%).



In summary, we can see that urban cores are major sources of economic value: not only materially, in the form of infrastructure and housing, for example, but also in the form of social capital.

In the study, we present a number of policy recommendations aimed at managing these sources of value. Essentially, these recommendations focus on strengthening city centers from an economic point of view.

For example, we suggest that we should work actively to ensure that more residents and offices move into city centers. A growing population leads to greater purchasing power, which benefits retailers and restaurants. Attracting more companies helps boost clustering effects, contributing to economic growth.

We also believe that we should work proactively to identify future challenges. This may, for example, involve ensuring that the town’s labor market is not too dependent on one individual industry. The broader the spread of industries, the better equipped the town is to deal with cyclical fluctuations and structural changes that can quickly change the need for labor. For example, if a major player leaves the city center, this may have significant effects on the town’s attractiveness.

Development of city centers sometimes focuses too little on strengthening trade and other visit-intensive industries. We believe it is important to understand that urban development is about strengthening the town as a whole as well as the surrounding region. What’s good for the town is good for the region, and vice versa.


More quick facts

The average population of Swedish city centers (excluding the three major cities). Norrköping’s urban core has the highest population, with 12,089 people. Mariestad has the smallest population in its city center, with 1,846 inhabitants.


Norrköping’s city center has the highest proportion of people under the age of 65, while Piteå is the town with the oldest population.


35 percent of the workers in Visby’s city center are employed in retail, hotels, and restaurants, which is the highest proportion in Sweden, where the average is 17 percent.

On average, the daytime population is 13 percent larger than the night-time population in Swedish city centers. The largest daytime population is in Umeå, which has over three times as many people in its city center by day than at night. At the other end of the scale is Eslöv, where the population is 30 percent lower during the day than at night.

The proportion of high-income earners in city centers (more than SEK 333,194 per year, per person). The highest proportion of high-income earners is located in the city center of Helsingborg, where it is 38 percent. The smallest proportion of high-income earners is in Kristinehamn’s city center, where the same figure is 9 percent.