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The ESPON 2013 Operational Programme
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Access to urban nodes

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  • Regional development challenges can derive from geographical location and from suffering severe and permanent natural handicaps
  • The challenge depends on the geographical level of analysis. When research is focused on the local scale it quickly encounters the often wide territorial and socio-economic diversity within regions
  • Europe has a core-periphery patterns with better access to urban areas in more densely populated parts and is areas with more polycentric urban system

Observations for policy

Some development challenges can derive from geographical location. Most importantly, the extent to which challenging situations appear depends on the geographical level of analysis. When research is focused on the local scale it reveals wide territorial and socio-economic diversity within the regions. Similarly, the potential for development that these regions have is also diverse.

Access to urban nodes is a major characteristic, associated with a series of key factors of local development, including (a) size of the local market, (b) access to logistic services and other infrastructures, (c) rural-urban linkages, (d) potentials for economic diversification, (e) demographic and labour challenges.

Policy context

Urban centres as engines for territorial development and areas with specific geographical features are important elements in the EU Cohesion Policy, but also for the Territorial Agenda 2020.

Map interpretation

The maps look at regional settlement structures based on access to urban centres. An all-European map is accompanied by a selection of detailed maps for selected case studies. The European map shows largely urban centres resulting in a core-periphery pattern with better access to urban areas (1) in more densely populated parts of Europe and (2) in areas with more polycentric urban system.

All of the case study areas are, entirely or in part, characterised by a limited access to urban nodes of significant importance from a European perspective. The canton of Jura in Switzerland is a medium altitude mountain area, with relatively good connections. However, main challenge is the positioning of this predominately rural region that is in close proximity to urban poles.

The canton of Valais in Switzerland is central in a European context, but because of the topography it is separated both from the neighbouring Italian cities to the south and from the dynamic Swiss Mittelland plateau to the North.

Malta offers an example of an insular nation state. Despite being situated only 25 minutes by boat from Malta, Gozo remains outside the daily commuting distance and suffers from a ‘double insularity’.

The county of Alba in Romania lies in the extensive human settlements at high altitudes (above 1000 m). For the county of Suceava, also in Romania, the lack of infrastructure and the absence of basic public and private services raise the question of the relevance of a focus on geographic specificities in territorial policies in areas with major structural challenges.

In Iceland, the region of North Iceland is peripheral and has low population density within an insular national context. The North Calotte is an example of an extremely sparsely populated region with abundant natural resources, high living standards and satisfactory to high economic performance levels from a European point of view. However, only a minor proportion of the area is within commuting distance of an urban centre.

Marathasa and Tylliria are sparsely populated and poorly connected areas of northwest Cyprus, whose relative isolation has been accentuated by the Turkish occupation.

Concepts and methods

The map represents areas within 45-minute travel from the centres of Functional Urban Areas with more than 20 000 inhabitants. The network model used for this exercise includes trunk roads mainly, and areas accessible with minor roads may therefore not appear. The 45-minute travel time threshold is often referred in literature as the maximal daily commuting distance for most commuters.


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