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North Karelia, Finland

Key Facts

North Karelia is a region in Eastern Finland. It is the easternmost region of continental Europe located by the Russian border, 450 km from the capital city of Helsinki. North Karelia has a population of 163,000 people in 13 municipalities, of which 5 are towns. Joensuu is the regional centre and a university town with a population of 77,000. 

North Karelia is a sparsely populated region with a population density of  7,6 inhabitants per km2. Almost half of the population lives in rural areas.

The service sector provides work for 72 % of the population, manufacturing and refining for 22 %, and primary production for 5 %.

The climate is cold continental with warm summers and snowy winters. Forest covers 89 % of the land area and there are 2,200 lakes.

The region is famous for its natural attractions such as its 4 national parks. North Karelia’s location in the meeting point of the eastern and western cultures has given the region its original and distinctive nature.  

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The population of North Karelia is steadily decreasing, and the demographic structure of the region is ageing. The number of births in relation to the number of deaths taxes the population by more than 900 people annually. Although almost half of the population still lives in rural areas, the population growth is concentrated within a radius of 20 km from the regional centre Joensuu. Due to the ageing population, the high population dependency ratio increases the cost of social and health care services. Other challenges are the accumulation of socio-economic problems, low participation, loneliness, and high morbidity. Loneliness is closely related to social inequality and unemployment, which is higher in North Karelia than in any other region in Finland.

The concept of smart shrinking is of special interest to North Karelia in tackling the challenges arising from the declining and ageing population. The concept refers to place-based solutions, economic balancing, and renewal creating development independent of growth. There is a need for new strategies, plans and policies for managing the demographic change: the shrinking regions must utilize their place-based potential and transformative capacities to develop sustainable livelihoods putting the emphasis on the residents’ inclusion, well-being, and quality of life.  

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