This is about a sustainable city – city of growth.

Authors: Pavel Tkach, Mael Manuel Bueno, Nina Vermot, & Elena Kavanagh

One of the major challenges faced by the Arctic region is the constant struggle against the migration of young people to warmer places or places with better opportunities for education, employment, and…fun. However, not many people realize that the Arctic and its cities are also promising and enjoyable places to live. The objective of the series called “Cities of the Arctic Youth” is to converse with the Mayors of Arctic cities to explore opportunities and to demonstrate to the public that cities in the Far North can be attractive places for young individuals. Today, we will speak with Ms Kristina Sundin Jonsson, the Head of City Administration of Skellefteå, Sweden, and ask the question: Is Skellefteå a city of the Arctic youth?

General Information about Skellefteå

Skellefteå, pronounced “shell-left-eh”, is a city part of the eponymous municipality. The distance between Sweden’s capital – Stockholm, and Skellefteå is 621 km up north (the road distance is 771 km). Well known for its stunning natural landscapes, rich cultural heritage and thriving industries, Skellefteå is located on the coastline of the Gulf of Bothnia in Västerbotten County in Sweden. The city’s picturesque surroundings offer a unique blend between a developed urban city and pristine wilderness, as it is enclosed by dense forests and divided by the Skellefte River. With a flourishing population of over 75.000 inhabitants (click), including over 130 nationalities, it is a welcoming community that embraces both tradition and innovation.

City of Skellefteå (c) Skellefteå kommun

Skellefteå’s active involvement in green goals and green energy not only contributes to the demographic expansion but also makes it an economically diverse and robust municipality.  The city has a long-standing tradition in mining and forestry, with numerous companies contributing to these sectors, such as Boliden (click) or Martinssons (click). Previously known as Guldstaden (“gold town”), Skellefteå has emerged in recent years as a hub for technology and innovation, particularly in the fields of renewable energy and ICT (Information and Communication Technology) (click). Some noteworthy private sector companies participating in this are Northvolt (click), a lithium-ion battery cell manufacturing company (see a short documentary about Northvolt below), and Skellefteå Kraft, one of Sweden’s fifth largest hydropower companies (click). The presence of leading tech companies and startups has earned Skellefteå the reputation of being a dynamic and forward-thinking city, attracting skilled professionals and entrepreneurs seeking new opportunities.

We have high ambitions in environmental targets both in the public sector and in the industry”, gladly shared Kristina Sundin Jonsson, the Head of City Administration.

The city’s commitment to sustainability and environmental stewardship is evident in its renewable energy initiatives and eco-friendly practices. Skellefteå is at the forefront of renewable energy production, harnessing the power of wind, hydro, and biomass to meet its energy needs while reducing its carbon footprint.

Challenges of the city

Back in 2021, Skellefteå city turned from the quiet periphery into one of “the top 7 fastest growing cities in Sweden” with energy shift started in 2017: “Europe’s largest battery factory was established in Skellefteå, so right now, we have a lot of people moving into Skellefteå”, reports the Head of City Administration about Northvolt Ett – the largest European battery factory producing lithium-ion batteries for electric vehicles and energy storage. The city showcases the value of Indigenous Saami culture meeting a vibrant mix of talents from around the globe.

(c) Anna Öhlund/

The positive attitude of the Head of City Administration, who is ready to transform challenges into opportunities, is encouraging. However, we had a very open conversation and received honest information about the challenges in the city. As in a lot of other European cities, there are two main concerns in Skellefteå: higher education and a housing crisis.

Education sits high on the agenda for Skellefteå City. Though the largest city in Sweden without a university, it is pioneering a revolutionary model.

“We are trying to establish a university alliance…now we have a collaboration with six different universities in Sweden,” the Head of City Administration highlighted and added “We are trying to create a new national model for this” when discussing how to foster local access to higher education and drive long-term city development.

Drawing inspiration from successful models in Finland, where multiple universities coexist on one campus, Skellefteå envisions a similar collaborative setup. Securing local university institutions is seen as vital for Skellefteå’s growth trajectory, underscoring the importance of higher education as a catalyst for progress. As the city embarks on this groundbreaking initiative, efforts are underway to secure national funding and support.

Campus Skellefteå – a local education institution that aims at offering study courses starting in the autumn of 2024. Retrieved from

Housing, however, poses another major challenge in Skellefteå’s community, considering the amount of newcomers in recent years. With a surge in population, finding a place to rent or buy is getting very difficult. Yet, the city’s approach is again innovative.

“The municipality has bought apartments for people just moving in, as a test,” shared the Head of City Administration.

The fresh thinking demonstrated by the administration of the municipality is indeed innovative.

Regardless of the housing crisis, Skellefteå’s transformation is a celebration of diversity. Northvolt Ett employs people from all over the world. “I think that it is a big attraction itself because you can come here and meet all these nationalities,” the Head of City Administration proudly stated. It is a community where everyone’s voice matters, and everyone is equal, from the Saami people enriching the city with their Indigenous language and culture to international professionals bringing a feeling of the megalopolis to the city.

Another concern that is being addressed as we speak is transportation. With plenty of different nationalities, flight paths to every part of the world are very important. The city is proactive in securing a variety of destinations for Skellefteå: “It is important with the airport, which is municipality-owned, not state-owned, so it has really been important to work with all these flight companies to have a good variety of destinations so that people can travel all over the world.” Among the future plans and hopes are more train and other transport routes through the city: “investments in the harbour, in roads, airports, train lines, everything is important.”

In April 2024, the biggest low-cost carrier in Europe – Ryanair, launched regular flights from Gdansk (Poland) to Skellefteå. Retrieved from

Skellefteå is not left struggling with challenges; it is turning itself into an attractive place for newcomers:

“We give a really large investment to culture, restaurants, leisure and that sort of things that will make people like to stay, especially young people.” (c) Kristina Sundin Jonsson.

Attractiveness of the city

In the span of a decade, Skellefteå has undergone a remarkable metamorphosis (click), evolving from a municipality plagued by population decline to a thriving hub of innovation, sustainability, and multiculturalism in northern Sweden. Skellefteå’s revitalization has been propelled by a strategic blend of leveraging its natural resources, fostering a vibrant job market, and embracing a forward-thinking collective approach to governance.

At the heart of Skellefteå’s dynamism is its robust job market (click), boasting Sweden’s lowest unemployment rate and the highest per capita investment of any municipality. A diverse array of industries, both traditional and cutting-edge, have found a home in Skellefteå, catalyzing economic growth and attracting talent from around the globe. The establishment of Northvolt (click) stands as a testament to Skellefteå’s appeal as a destination for innovation and investment. The Head of City Administration proudly highlights the multinational workforce driving this growth, stating, “Our battery factory employs people from 130 nationalities,” underscoring the city’s multinational character.

The main street in the city Skellefteå (c) Ted Logardt

However, Skellefteå’s success story goes beyond economic prosperity (click). The city has emerged as a trailblazer in green initiatives, setting ambitious environmental targets and spearheading initiatives to combat climate change (click). Through projects like “Climate Neutral Cities 2030,” Skellefteå has committed to becoming an exemplary city of sustainability, engaging residents, particularly young adults, in shaping its green agenda. The Head of City Administration emphasizes the importance of this endeavour, noting that it instils confidence in the city’s youth, who recognize that their actions have global significance.

Climate neutral Skellefteå 2030 (c) Patrick Degerman

Skellefteå and adaptation to its local life

Skellefteå is not just a city of the Arctic. It is a warm embrace for newcomers seeking to integrate seamlessly into its vibrant tapestry of life. One of the most remarkable aspects of Skellefteå is its dedication to fostering social and cultural adaptation among newcomers. The city recognizes the importance of ensuring that everyone feels included and valued, regardless of their background or origin. To achieve this, Skellefteå has implemented a range of initiatives designed to facilitate integration and promote social cohesion. The starting point for such initiatives is through participation at the “Welcome House” (click).

“I think that is the way forward to really be close to the citizens, to ask what they want, how they would like to develop a city together with us, and that is the base”, confirms the Head of City Administration when mentioning the use of AI since 2023 to improve the inclusion of new citizens in the municipality.

At the heart of Skellefteå’s efforts is its commitment to providing support and resources for newcomers to navigate the challenges of settling into a new environment. The city offers comprehensive integration programs that provide practical assistance with language learning, employment opportunities, housing, and social networking. “We have expert unions (societies) with several thousand of members who are very good at introducing newcomers to Skellefteå because they have different activities”, confirms the Head of City Administration. These programs aim to empower newcomers to build meaningful connections within the community and establish a sense of belonging from the outset. (Read the interview with Mats Bergqvist – the man whose job is to make newcomers welcome in Skellefteå – HERE (click))

The Christmas Cafe for newcomers at Welcome House Skellefteå (c) Donna Richmond. Retrieved from

Moreover, Skellefteå places a strong emphasis on fostering intercultural understanding and dialogue among its residents. The city promotes tolerance, respect, and open-mindedness as core values, encouraging individuals to embrace diversity and learn from one another’s perspectives.  Not only is the municipality doing its best to make newcomers feel at home, but they are also working with the Saami people so everyone belongs to the same community. Examples of such activities include community-led initiatives, such as intercultural exchange programs, language exchange groups, and cultural awareness workshops.

Although efforts are bridging the gap between different cultural communities and fostering mutual understanding, Ms Sundin Jonsson stays critical: “We have to do more. Especially with Saami and especially with other minorities”.

In addition to its cultural vibrancy, Skellefteå offers a high quality of life that enhances the social and cultural adaptation of newcomers. The city boasts excellent healthcare facilities, recreational amenities, and public services, ensuring that residents have access to essential resources and support systems. “We arrange different festivals, the culture life is the way to involve the people and to make them love Skellefteå”, the Head of City Administration points out.

Skellefteå – Saami City

Skellefteå is known for its multicultural community. It started a new era of being a Saami municipality just a few weeks ago, on January 1, 2024.

The community welcomed this decision, the Head of City Administration and Saami people alike: “We want to involve Saami in different issues, like presenting the language in science and schools, elderly care and so on”. The young people are also invited to share their ideas on how to make improvements: “We discuss important things like how the city will develop and how young people could help improve Saami’s lives in Skellefteå”.

What is special about the Head’s approach? The city’s willing to admit that there is much more to be done: “Now that we are a Saami municipality, a lot more has to be done.” This significant milestone marks the beginning of a journey towards actively integrating the Sámi language and culture into the city’s community. Saami are involved in “Newcomers’ days” to make their beautiful culture visible and unique language accepted and celebrated.

The Saami Costume (c) Lola Akinmade Åkerström/

“The work is just starting,” Ms Kristina Sundin Jonsson shares in our interview. “Becoming a Saami municipality is a step forward, but there is much to do to introduce our new residents to this culture.” This acknowledgement of the need for further integration and cultural education is a key focus for the city administration. Skellefteå’s approach to becoming a Saami municipality is clear. The most important for the city are equality and human rights. “We talk a lot about every person’s value,” Ms Sundin Jonsson emphasizes. “Ensuring equality is crucial, and we aim to uphold these values not only in our words but in our actions.” These values relate to every sphere of society, including education and employment. “Right now, job opportunities are not a problem”, comments Ms Jonsson cheerfully. These are positive news for Indigenous youth, as well as for local people and newcomers.

While Skellefteå’s community is welcoming the new status of being a Saami municipality, there is an understanding that there was not much done in this regard in the past: “[In Northern Sweden] we had not been so good at involving Saami people, but we really think that it is important in Skellefteå”. The Head of City Administration adds, “We have really high ambitions to be in this green transition, and for that, it is important to include Saami people”. 

Here, it is important to mention the involvement of Saami people in local governance: “we have just started up the processes of involving Saami people in planning processes, and we have a group where young people participate”. The Indigenous peoples’ slogan “Nothing about us without us” is a reality in Skellefteå.

As Skellefteå continues to evolve, the city’s administration, led by forward-thinking individuals like Ms Kristina Sundin Jonsson, is dedicated to creating an environment where the Saami culture is recognized and celebrated.

“We should really do more to make them comfortable, to live in Skellefteå, in the way they want to live,” the Head of City Administration concludes, “and we are committed to making that happen.”

Youth in Governance: past, present, future

In 1994, the municipality of Skellefteå achieved a record-high population of 75,822 people. However, recent figures show that as of September 26, 2023, Skellefteå’s population has grown to 75,833 people, surpassing its previous record. In 2022, the population of Skellefteå increased by 1009 people, marking the first time in 50 years that the population had exceeded 1000 people in a single year (click). This positive progress has placed Skellefteå among the top 7 fastest-growing cities in Sweden. Ms Kristina Sundin Jonsson recognized the issue of Skellefteå’s population crisis when she assumed office in 2010. At that time, Skellefteå municipality had a population of 71,641 inhabitants (click), which was a crucial indicator of the crisis, given the recorded population growth in the 1990s.

“When I started as a Head of City Administration, Skellefteå was in the opposite direction – we had lost 5000 inhabitants, and we began to do this strategy work involving all the inhabitants in consultation processes – “Please come and help us, what can we do in order to change the direction of the city?” (c) Kristina Sundin Jonsson.

Inhabitants trend showing constant population growth in Skelleftea. Retrieved from

The proactive involvement of residents in driving change has transformed Skellefteå into a municipality that values collaboration. Ms Kristina Sundin Jonsson reflects on this inclusive strategy, stating, “It was very successful. After that, we started to be more collaborative; we began to collaborate more with other municipalities, other countries and so on. I think that Skellefteå is in the right direction right now”. This participatory ethos not only fosters a sense of ownership among residents but also ensures that the collective vision of its citizens guides Skellefteå’s development.

The role of youth in shaping the direction of Skellefteå towards greater global engagement cannot be overstated. In the past, the municipality was more insular in its approach to the wider world and its challenges. However, the passion of young people to make a positive impact on the world has had a transformative effect on Skellefteå. As a result, what began as internal cooperation with various segments of society within the municipality has now evolved into interregional and international cooperation with global intentions.

As it was mentioned above, the topic of climate change remains a priority concern among the youth in the city. According to Ms Sundin Jonsson, “…the climate issue is really important for young people. For instance, that is important because this gives young people living in Skellefteå some confidence that what we are doing here matters for the rest of the world.”

The municipality recognizes the need to uphold high standards that are relevant globally, and the administration has made considerable efforts to engage young people through dialogues and involve young people already in schools.

In addition to global matters, the concerns of young people are diverse, and the administration is actively working towards addressing them. Ms Kristina Sundin Jonsson pointed out, “We have politicians who have meet-ups with young people, and they are asking about issues they are worrying about the most. Another thing that we know that they care about is the leisure sector; they always want more nights and discotheques.” As in all the world, young people want to have opportunities to have fun in places they are living, but also, they want to matter…to matter to the rest of the world. 

Scandinavian Winter Swimming Championship in Skellefteå (c) Vintersim i Skellefteå

Developing sustainable and long-lasting impacts is a complex and time-consuming process that requires the active participation of young people as well as well-established networks with other stakeholders. It is essential to recognize that the degree of global impact on young people is also influenced by external factors such as the state of democracy worldwide. Inadequate response from the public sector to the efforts of young people to bring about a positive change can diminish their confidence in their actions and faith in the public sector. Skellefteå municipal administration is well aware of this challenge.

Ms Sundin Jonsson, in this regard, admits, “I think something has happened with the trust of young people in the public sector. Something happened with democracy all over the world, I think, so it is really important for us in Skellefteå when we have a huge transformation to make young people and to have them with us in the political discussion in the society discussions because I think that is the big foundation in democracy.”


Skellefteå stands as a shining example of what is possible when a community unites behind a shared vision of progress and sustainability. With its flourishing economy, diverse population, and unwavering dedication to environmental stewardship, Skellefteå beckons both residents and newcomers alike to join in its journey toward a brighter, greener future. The city prioritizes eco-friendly transportation options, with extensive bike lanes and public transit networks that encourage residents to embrace sustainable modes of travel. As Ms Sundin Jonsson aptly asserts, “Skellefteå is in the right direction right now,” a testament to the city’s unwavering commitment to growth, innovation, and inclusivity.

Skellefteå’s safe and welcoming environment provides visitors and locals with peace of mind as they embark on their journey of integration and settlement. In Skellefteå, everyone has a place to call home and a community to belong to, making it a truly exceptional destination for those seeking a new beginning. It is impressive to witness the administration’s commitment towards embracing the diversity that makes Skellefteå even more appealing to the youth, newcomers, tourists, and the local population. The newly-acclaimed status of the Saami municipality is a valuable addition to the thriving city, as it celebrates traditional Saami values, language, and culture that are renowned across the Arctic region of Europe. 

In working with youth, the municipal administration’s primary objective is to create an environment where young people can offer innovative ideas and solutions that can further the municipality’s policies and actions. Although Sweden does not have a legally binding obligation to have youth councils in municipalities, Skellefteå is determined to be a city where young people can define its direction, even though they may not participate in policymaking as an administrative body.

The most commonly repeated quote from the Head of City Administration in the discussion was, A lot more has to be done”. That implies the simple but experience-proven conclusion that urban development never stops and the city is attractive only when residents, including newly arrived, are a vital part of that development. Regardless of questions about recognized challenges that the city faces, such as higher education and housing, the Head of City Administration is confident that those challenges do not overshadow advantages:

“I would definitely say that the city is for the Arctic youth.”

…and we are fully supporting this statement. We are confident that in the future, you will hear more about the City of the Arctic Youth – the City of Skellefteå.

(c) Skellefteå Kommun

About the Author: Arctic Youth Network

The Arctic Youth Network is a youth-founded and youth-led non-profit organization supporting a global network of youth through international cooperation and capacity-building.

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