David Chapman, Jennie Sjöholm, Sandra Zetterkvist & Agneta Larsson

From March 2020, regulations and recommendations were implemented in Sweden to reduce the spread of COVID-19, which included limitations to public life. Overall, these sought to reduce activities that brought people together and in so doing, transitioned the relationship between cities and people into a new paradigm.

The study explores public usage of an Arctic city during the pandemic to understand how COVID-19 altered people’s ‘social life’. Data was collected in the Arctic city of Luleå, by structured questionnaires and semi-structured interviews. These indicate that: 1) a significant reduction in city visits, 2) multi-faceted city visits were reduced to single task based visits, 3) a significant reduction in leisure based activities, 4) an increase in digitalization of work, retail and leisure activities, 5) perceptions of responsibility, guilt, boredom and minimizing social networks were reported, and 6) post-pandemic, people questioned the ability of cities to bounce back.

The survey and interviews show that in the Arctic city of Luleå, restrictions put in place to reduce spread of the infection had a significant impact on public life and use of the public realm, which is in accordance with research from outside the Arctic.

The conclusion is that in the short term, the role of urban centres in daily life was reduced and the role of digitalisation for work, goods and services was rapidly advanced. However, the research also shows that the ‘social dimension’ of Arctic cities - to see other people and take part of civic life on site - was not easy to replace and is valued by the community.

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