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Typology of Urban development, 1990-2006


data source and more Map: ESPON FOCI; ETCLUSI-UAB
Data sources: CORINE Land Cover 1990, 2000, 2006

  • More than half of the European population live in an urbanised area. These areas remain attractive for people and are thus growing.
  • European cities grow at a different pace and have heterogeneous urban developments in relation to the urban zone and core area, as result of history, culture and geographical factors leading to more diffuse and compact cities.
  • The pattern of slowly, rapidly and very rapidly growing cities is dispersed. However, most slowly growing cities can be found in Eastern Europe and the UK, while faster growing cities can be found in the Benelux, France and the Iberian Peninsula.

Observations for policy

Cities are the engines of European economy and can be considered as the catalysts for creativity and innovation. Most of the European urban areas are growing in terms of population, however to a different extent. Sprawl is one of the main challenges linked to urban development. It poses environmental problems and deteriorates the urban systems (opposing compact city), social problems, and accessibility central functions cities.

The reuse of previous urban land has significantly increased in urban areas, development of new residential areas has reduced, while industrial and commercial areas were still increasing and becoming the main source of urban expansion. European urban zones grow differently and at a different pace. A general trend observed in the last 20 years is that urban sprawl is less and less associated with the development of residential areas and more to other economic developments. However, there are some exceptions like the Mediterranean coast, and specifically in Spain where second homes and speculation have been driving forces for urban development that has continued into the period 2000-2006, here the faster growing cities can be found. Many medium-sized to small cities in the Eastern Europe also show a different trend, since the development of new residential areas were dominant over new industrial and commercial ones. Here more slow growing cities with diffuse urban development can be found.

City form and the extent of compactness are the result of the history and evolution of urban areas, which include geographic and cultural factors. Available information indicates that several factors combine to have an impact in the more compact cities: a) the higher proximity of urban patches to the city centre or core city; and b) mixed uses of land.

Policy context

Europe is an urbanised continent. More than half of EuropeÔÇÖs population lives in urbanised areas and these regions generate 67% of the EUÔÇÖs GDP. However these urban areas are also the places where persistent problems such as unemployment, segregation and poverty are at their most severe. Urban areas represent various territorial dimensions ÔÇô environmental, economic, social and cultural ÔÇô that are interwoven and can be addressed through an integrated approach. An integrated approach is more promoted in European policies than in the previous programming period. A minimum of 5% of ERDF resources allocated to each Member State shall be invested in integrated actions for sustainable urban development as stated in the regulations for Cohesion Policy 2014-2020.

Measures concerning physical urban renewal should combine measures promoting education, economic development, social inclusion and environmental protection. In addition the development of strong partnership between local citizens, civil society, the local economy and the various levels of government is a pre-requisite.

Map interpretation

The map distinguishes between 5 types of trends between 1990 and 2006 with regards to urban development and sprawl:

(1a) Slowly growing cities densifying the existing urban areas. These are mainly cities with below 600,000 inhabitants, low degree of soil sealing, and a very slow rate of urban growth with a high degree of redevelopment. However, the low percentage of soil sealing (also related to low percentage of built-up areas) shows the potential for these cities to grow. The new developed areas are mainly residential in the core city. Some of these cities are losing population in the core city as well in the area surrounded by the city (Large Urban Zones). Geographic extent: Mostly cities in Eastern Europe. Examples: Vilnius, Kaunas (LT); Szczecin (PL); Miskolc (HU); Bradford (UK).

(1b) Slowly growing cities with diffuse urban development. The core of these cities shows a higher degree of soil sealing (higher percentage of urbanised land), and has a relatively large LUZ (Large Urban Zone). Consequently, the rate of growth is about three times higher in the LUZ compared to the core city. The degree of redevelopment is very low both in the core city and LUZ. The risk for those cities would be to increase the pace of urban development that would lead to more sprawled system. The population is very stable or has small rates of growth. Geographic extent: Some capital cities such as Budapest (HU); Brussels (BE), Berlin (DE), London (UK).

(2a) Rapidly growing cities. This group represents almost half of the European cities. Because of this large amount they do not have any particularity regarding its size and form. This group is defined by an intermediate rate of growth and low level of recycling. New developments in the core city are mainly residential areas, whereas in the LUZ the new developments are for industrial and commercial activities.

(2b) Rapidly growing cities with a relatively large LUZ. Comparatively the urban development in the LUZ is also very high. It represents only a small group of cities without any specific pattern of distribution. Examples: Madrid (ES); Rome (IT); Prague (CZ); Tallinn (EE).

(3) Very rapidly growing cities with diffuse urban development. This group includes cities with the highest degree of urban development, far beyond the average of the other typologies. In terms of city structure they have the lowest degree of sealing (high availability of space) and the city is almost half of the LUZ size. It seems that the availability of space is a factor that facilitates the expansion which shows similar trends in the core city and the LUZ. Examples: Braga (PT), Groningen (NL), Erfurt (DE); Murcia (ES)

Concepts and methods

Three aspects of urban development have been considered:

  • Redevelopment: changing the use of existing urban land e.g. industrial to residential
  • Infilling: development of new areas within the city
  • Expansion: urban development on the fringe of urban areas or in less dense areas.

To measures these aspects, six variables have been calculated on the basis of Corine Land Cover (CLC) data, for each Larger Urban Zones (LUZ):

  • Ratio of built-up area: Percentage of built-up area of total land area
  • Degree of soil sealing: Percentage of sealed area of the total land area
  • Increase of built-up area: Percentage of new built-up area over total built-up area at the beginning of the period.
  • Land take per capita: Increase of built-up area divided by the total population
  • Degree of Redevelopment: Percentage of redevelopment over all new built-up areas for the period.
  • Destination of new urban areas: The growth rate of residential areas and industrial, commercial and transport areas. Those areas have been identified according to CORINE Land Cover nomenclature and methodology.

CORINE Land Cover makes use of remote sensing and determines the covering of the ground by an impermeable material like buildings. This is called soil sealing. LUZ (Large Urban Zones), include the core city and their surrounding travel-to-work areas.

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