Recently, Sjöberg and Gentile generalised the priority mechanisms that shaped the settlement systems and individual cities in countries that were formerly centrally planned. The paper adds the metropolitan level to those macro and microlevel approaches, and links the priority approach to a more general theory of the urban life cycle (Van den Berg and colleagues) in order to understand the processes of population change in this group of countries. The empirical content of the paper comes from the Tallinn metropolitan area (TMA), Estonia. We demonstrate through our analysis how the key metropolitan actors (families, companies, and the public sector) guided metropolitan residential change in the course of the late-Soviet (1980s), transition (1990s), and post-transition (present) decades. First, the priorities of the communist regime shaped the spatial structure of the TMA and the residential changes that have occurred in the post-communist period have been affected by the Soviet-era suburban housing stock and areas available for new developments around the city. Second, the passive attitude of the public authorities after 1991 increased the role of business actors in metropolitan dynamics. We exemplify how the changing balance of metropolitan actors interplays with inherited metropolitan space and shapes the residential choices set for families in the TMA. Copyright (c) 2009 by the Royal Dutch Geographical Society KNAG.