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Multilocal living and spatial development

spatial development

Increasing numbers of people live at more than one location and establish spaces for their everyday activities at each location (residential multilocality). 

The sheer diversity of the phenomenon of multilocal lifestyles renders it ‘invisible’. 

The framework in which multilocal lifestyles develop can be outlined in keywords such as Europeanisation and globalisation, migration and transnationalisation, the individualisation and pluralisation of lifestyles and household types, the flexibilisation and subjectification of work, the spatial division of labour, the development of new information, communication and transport technologies, and last but not least gender and ethnic emancipation movements. All of these trends are associated with changing requirements, needs and opportunities for mobility.  The current scientific discourse makes it clear that the phenomenon as such is nothing new but that multilocal lifestyles need to be reclassified, both quantitatively and qualitatively. While the multilocality of itinerant labourers, the upper classes or middle-class summer holidaymakers was once limited to only a few social groups, today it manifests itself as a lifestyle option for much larger segments of the population, such as the children of separated parents, teenagers and young adults at schools away from home, certain work and family situations in middle age, and older people who wish to temporarily relocate to the mountains or the sea. All of these (and many others) are potential ‘multilocals’.


The need for further research 

  • Thus far there has been little research in Central Europe on multilocal living arrangements with their spatial and social implications. Research is needed on the following topics: 
  • There are numerous motives for multilocal living arrangements that are related to changes in labour markets and household structures. The extent of their effects on social inequality, gender equality, etc. needs to be investigated. 
  •  Since multilocality has far-reaching consequences – on the use of land, infrastructure, social and tax systems but also on the structure of individual household expenses – research on the motivations for and causes of multilocality is still needed. Ideally, this research ought to be socio-psychologically and ethnographically grounded and should examine personal profiling (distinction gain), reputation and investment strategies. The duration of multilocal arrangements and their relation to different phases of life should be better understood. 
  • In this connection (but not only in this one), the data on multilocal living arrangements urgently needs to be improved: the proportions of multilocal households specified by spatial and municipality type and social characteristics are little understood. Only with this information will it be possible to determine how strongly multilocal arrangements contribute to increases in housing demand and traffic and transport volumes, for example. 
  • Transfers of funds and social capital from work locations to principal and secondary residences as part of multilocal lifestyles are especially interesting from a spatial science perspective. There is very little validated knowledge on this subject. 
  • Multilocality plays an important role in expanding labour markets and in equalising disparities between fragmented labour markets. At the same time, this leads to stresses and resource consumption among employees as well as businesses. To research this, new approaches for economic and geographic studies on location research would be useful. 
  • The effects of multilocal life on political and civic engagement in the various locations of multilocal households are also little understood. Directly related to this is the question of how the temporary presence of multilocals is perceived by long-term local residents; this is currently the subject of contentious debate. The consequences of temporary absences for various processes and forms of participation should also be researched. 
  • Finally, a critical, theoretical and conceptual discussion and redefinition of outdated concepts for ‘households’, ‘commuting’, ‘working hours’, etc. is called for. In order to understand these diverse phenomena, appropriate strategies and empirical research are needed; the results of this research could also benefit planners in determining what measures and actions are needed. 
Fact sheet: Friday on the ICE train 

It’s been a long time since I found myself waiting at the train station on a Friday afternoon. I’m on my way to a family reunion in my family’s home city. It’s still important to us even though none of us has our main home there now. We plan to have a drink together this evening, so I left my office in Bonn just after my core working hours. I made a reservation so I wouldn’t have to fight for a seat. A colleague takes the seat next to me. I know him by sight from the canteen. He tells me he commutes regularly between home and work since the organisation he works for moved its offices. His wife and their two teenagers didn’t want to move to the new city. They still live in their detached house in the Frankfurt suburbs, in a place they know and close to the friends they’ve known for years. That means that after jumping through a lot of hoops to get special permission, he now begins his work week on Monday at noon, works ten hours a day and returns to the family home on Friday afternoon. But this week he’s going back and forth for the second time because there was a family meeting on Tuesday to talk about why his son is having trouble coping with life and with his mother.

The train is full, so I give up trying to get to the restaurant car. The mobile coffee service can’t get through because the aisles are full of people who couldn’t get seats. Sitting diagonally across from me is a girl of about 12 who is reading for most of the time. She seems to be travelling alone and to be very familiar with the Friday afternoon situation on the train, which some adults find confusing. Every time the guard comes through, she has a few friendly and thoughtful words for the girl. Pricking up my ears, I hear that the girl is on her way to the airport in Frankfurt to fly to visit her father over the weekend. She does that every month. The train arrives in Mainz and several passengers alight while others board. A young woman takes the seat next to me. The young man accompanying her stands in the aisle with two rucksacks that are too wide for the luggage rack above the seats and are now blocking passage through the aisle. The two young people apparently don’t want to leave their rucksacks on the shelves near the entrance to the carriage since it’s hard to keep an eye on them. They’re talking about an exam the young man, who is obviously a student, took today before the trip. Now they’re on the way to her parents, talking about their plans for the weekend with friends they’ll meet up with where they used to live.

All in all, nothing especially unusual for a Friday afternoon on the InterCity Express. 

Fact sheet: A factory electrician in Saxony and Bavaria

Mr P. is a factory electrician. For most of his life he worked in a steel mill in Saxony, but with the closure of the mill during German reunification he became unemployed. He did not want to just muddle through until early retirement; work – gainful employment with colleagues – is part of his life. His new job as a factory electrician is in Bavaria. To work there, he has to leave his wife, his house and village as well as his sheep and rabbits behind. He always comes home when his shifts allow it. He covers the distance by car; the drive takes four to five hours. At first the arrangement was transitional, but now it appears likely that it will last until he retires in about 15 years. His wife has not adjusted to the situation as well as he has. She misses him, feels as if half of me is missing’ and is unable to accept the intermittent separations without complaint. During his absences, she takes over his chores in the house and garden as best she can. She leaves some things for him to do when he returns. In Bavaria he looked for a place like the one he is already familiar with: a house in a village with a workshop and garden. His landlord is a widower and has adopted Mr P. into his circle of friends. As an electrician he has been able to lend a helping hand more than once – ‘from Monday to Thursday’, as he says. He has helped renovate the houses, and sometimes he cooks for ‘the people’. Mr P. knows how to get along with the people he meets, both here and there. He uses his experiences as a DIYer and colleague to make new ones. He experiments with the opportunities to establish and build new relationships. In contrast, his wife is more sensitive to what she has lost as a result of this lifestyle. She rarely takes part in his life in Bavaria. She is a guest at the factory’s Christmas parties, but the place is ‘somewhere else’ for her. Mr P. sees the good sides of the arrangement: he is expanding his network, works and earns money (minus the costs of double housekeeping) and recognition. He does not question his life with his wife in the house they share; he will return to his village on the River Elbe when his multilocal episode is over.

Fact sheet: Boarding houses

The individualisation and pluralisation of society are also affecting the housing market. Special types of housing for temporary residents have competed successfully on the market for quite some time now. A new development is the rising number and increasing variety of suppliers of temporary housing and, in particular, that these suppliers are giving increasing thought to variations in their target group. A current example from Switzerland is the ‘Baufeld 20 Brünnen’ project by the Aare Building Cooperative in Bern. Three residential property developers have banded together to develop the ‘BILLY’ settlement on three plots. Their plans include both conventional housing and ‘accommodation for people on the move’ to whom ‘services like absence management or washing and ironing’ are offered. One of the plots is even reserved for temporary living arrangements, with plans for small furnished units with a personal atmosphere and needs-oriented services. The developers envisage a differentiated set of future residents, identifying ten relevant target groups: business travellers or ‘job nomads’ (e.g. highly qualified IT specialists), temporary employees from the EU/EFTA region, employees of public institutions (e.g. university lecturers or hospital staff), ‘suddenly single’ people, weekly residents (a Swiss legal status for weekly commuters), students, young people in their first apartment, people in need of temporary accommodation due to renovation work in their permanent homes, visitors or staff of foreign embassies, and even lovers seeking a place for discreet trysts (cf. Baugenossenschaft [Buliding Cooperative] Aare 2013). The groundbreaking ceremony for this project took place recently; 2017 should show whether and by which multilocals the development will ultimately be embraced.

Fact sheet: Multilocality as an urban development opportunity – the case of Wolfsburg

The city of Wolfsburg is a good example of how the issue of multilocality can be addressed in urban planning and politics. Wolfsburg has an above-average percentage of people who are multilocal for job-related reasons. Its central location with excellent transport links and the presence of Volkswagen make it an attractive place to live and work. Official statistics show that more than 10% of the households in many central neighbourhoods are multilocal. Providing accommodation for these households was and is a special challenge for the relevant Actors. As an example, a housing alliance including actors from politics, administration, the housing sector and local employers drew up and is jointly implementing a strategy for multilocal and temporary housing. Working from the available information, the group analysed the similarities and differences in people’s reasons for residing in the city and the duration of their stays, thus enabling specific target groups for housing suppliers to be identified, such as business travellers, expatriates, commuters, interns or doctoral students. A study of multilocal lifestyles in Wolfsburg (Leubert 2013) identified various forms of local integration, which were attributed to the interpersonal skills of the actors involved and the practical organisation of the multilocal arrangements. The living arrangements created or supported by this initiative include rooms in shared flats, studio flats, and flats in penthouses or boarding houses; they are organised as service-based housing. The variety of available dwellings corresponds to the various demands that experience shows will be placed on the flats and to the financial means of the multilocals. Volkswagen has set up a relocation service, mainly for its foreign employees. Its services include support in finding accommodation, moving in and out, and assistance in dealing with the authorities and accessing doctors. The local society in Wolfsburg has chosen the theme of a ‘city in motion’, with Volkswagen and its diverse worldwide connections contributing to its dynamism. From the perspective of the city’s strategic planners, the multilocal and temporary residents are seen as representing an opportunity for the development of urban society there. They strengthen itas a business centre, breathe life into the city and act as ambassadors for Wolfsburg nationally and internationally.

Fact sheet: From tourist to part-time resident

Tourism in the Alps has been stagnating since the 1980s. There is a number of reasons for this, including uncertain snow cover, shorter stays, and competition from destinations outside of Europe. The tourism sector was the driving force behind the development of the construction and real estate sectors in many regions in the Alps. With the decline of tourism, both sectors found a new business model for new markets in the development and sale of second homes, though the development of the larger projects is mainly the province of companies from outside of both the towns and the sectors. They exploit changed consumer needs, marketing attractive cultural spaces under the label of a landscape. On the demand side the Alps lose their attractiveness as a tourist destination, but gain in importance for part-time residents. These are either earlier residents who have inherited an old house or former tourists who feel attached to a place and achieve a changed status and greater flexibility by buying a second home; they feel almost like natives. The dwellings purchased are no longer used for tourism; some of them are used for location-independent work. They also serve as a meeting place for extended family (multi-generation house) or to receive friends and business associates, which also raises the social status of the owners. Depending on the arrangement, such second homes also promote leisure commuting (Arnesen/Overvåg/Skjeggedal et al. 2012) or multilocality. In Andermatt in the canton of Uri in central Switzerland, a major Egyptian investor is developing a golf resort with high-priced apartments, hotels and an 18-hole golf course. Because of this new resort, investments were also made in the expansion and connection of the Sedrun and Andermatt ski resorts. The real estate market collapsed as a consequence of the project. The private property owners were no longer willing to sell, expecting land prices to develop as they had done in St. Moritz or Davos. The effects radiated outward into the neighbouring municipalities. Russian investors were interested in properties in Göschenen, looking to acquire accommodation for the future employees of the resort. Young people from Andermatt who wanted to purchase homes were forced to look for them in towns far down the valley. The drivers of resort development are the (increasingly transnational) operators of cable cars and sport facilities, and also private investors from within and outside the region. The newly built apartments are used by the buyers themselves or rented out. At least the owner-occupiers will thus be bound to the new location for the longer term, and the private renters will also have to care for the properties regularly. A new form of mobility is arising that goes beyond purely tourism purposes. By developing the resort, the investors are creating a new multilocality. Given the existing circumstances, it will serve to increase the utilisation and profitability of the installed infrastructure.


Rainer Danielzyk
Andrea Dittrich-Wesbuer
Cédric Duchêne-Lacroix
Tatjana Fischer
Nicola Hilti
Manfred Perlik
Knut Petzold
Anne Ritzinger
Joachim Scheiner
Gabriele Sturm
Christine Weiske

Mentioned articles

This thematic collection is based on the position paper 123 of the ARL: "Multilocal living and spatial development".

Download the full paper here:

Further publications of the ARL:

Danielzyk, Rainer; Dittrich-Wesbuer, Andrea; Hilti, Nicola; Tippel, Cornelia (Hrsg.) (2020): Multilokale Lebensführungen und räumliche Entwicklungen – ein Kompendium. Hannover. = Forschungsberichte der ARL 13. URN : http://nbn-resolving.de/urn:nbn:de:0156-09764

Available in german, download it here:


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