The MULTILOCAL Lab focuses on identifying governance challenges and opportunities faced by municipalities in the context of new residential mobility patterns and multi-local living arrangements. These patterns have been reinforced by the unfolding context of polycrises (COVID-19 pandemic, the war in Ukraine, energy security, cost of living, and the climate crisis). Our goal is to develop and equip spatial planners with a highly innovative digital tool with integrated data import and output functions, enhancing better service provision based on future population dynamics. Specifically, we will co-develop a public service that addresses the most pressing issues in the Tartu County (Estonia) case study region. Working alongside our experts and stakeholders, we will also create governance and policy recommendations to effectively tackle the challenges and seize the opportunities in our case study area.

Key Features

Tartu County, with over 160,000 inhabitants, stands as the second-largest county in Estonia. Unlike many other Estonian regions, Tartu is experiencing a gradual increase in its population. Centred around the city of Tartu, the county has been selected as the European Capital of Culture for 2024. It serves as a vibrant hub for Southern Estonia, characterized by excellence in education and research, a green and appealing living environment, a dynamic cultural scene, active local communities, and a thriving entrepreneurial spirit. The county’s high technological level and attractive investment environment contribute significantly to its growth and development. However, this positive growth has also led to increasing housing prices and rents, prompting many households to opt for suburban living or even move far to the outskirts of the city region where affordable housing still exists. Additionally, higher-income groups may choose to reside in out-of-city green environments, closer to nature. This is also pressuring the provision of services and infrastructure, as well as intensifying mobility patterns.

Main Challenges

The MULTILOCAL Lab will focus on the following challenges: 

  • Changes in residential mobility. In the context of polycrisis, some residents find it difficult to afford housing in city center due to rising housing costs and young families have moved away from urban centres with a desire to live closer to nature. Settling in suburban areas near large cities or more remote rural regions - areas that offer more affordable and greener living environment - has become more frequent compared to pre-COVID-19 period. 
  • Increase in multilocal living. The COVID-19 pandemic and the digital transition have intensified multilocal living arrangements. Changes in lifestyle and new residential patterns compel newcomers to either stay away from the job market, work from home, or commute between city centres. Many have opted to work remotely from home, while a significant portion of the population continues to move between their residences and city centers, resulting in a considerable expansion of their mobility need and activity space. 
  • Needs for redesign of local public service provision. The availability of public services, e.g., libraries, schools, and kindergartens, is limited in smaller municipalities. This situation requires commuting, not only for work but also for leisure and school purposes. As a result, it becomes critical to identify future population development scenarios and changes in activity patterns, among all residents and among those people who live in multiple locations, and to strengthen local and regional resilience to address these challenges.


MULTILOCAL introduces a groundbreaking digital tool for population forecasting, co-created with input from diverse stakeholders. This tool is designed to support decision-making processes in rapidly changing contexts. The development of the digital tool starts already in the initial stage of the lab, with prototyping continuing throughout subsequent stages to refine the tool and gather insights into local needs and potential future scenarios. The tool will undergo prototyping and testing with municipalities, enabling the exploration of diverse projections and the identification of robust, flexible solutions to the challenges of multilocality, particularly in sectors such as education.

The prototype will be a web-based platform featuring integrated data import and output functions. It will allow users to visualize the impacts of various factors—such as financial resources, residential and employment locations, student demographics, transportation, and mobility—on the design and restructuring of school networks. Users can explore different scenarios, including local, remote, or commuting-based service provision, and examine the factors influencing each scenario's viability.