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The ESPON 2013 Operational Programme
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Population growth related to urbanisation, 2013

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Map
data source and more Map: ESPON TOWN, University Rovira i Virgili
Data sources: GEOSTAT data, DG Regio
 

  • Population growth is not only concentrated in urban areas, but appears in a wide range of regions across Europe.
  • Continued growth in regions with the highest concentrations of urban population can contribute to their further economic development by providing additional labour, as well as economies of scale and agglomeration. However, this presupposes intensified efforts to promote economic, social and territorial cohesion in urban areas, and to ensure that they remain ecologically sustainable.
  • ‚ÄúShrinking regions‚ÄĚ and ‚Äúshrinking cities‚ÄĚ face challenges linked to the adaptation of infrastructure and service provision facilities.

Observations for policy

Demographic trends of births, life expectancy, ageing and migration are relevant for a balanced development in Europe. Changes in population are observed to be different between European countries and between predominantly rural and urban regions over the last decade.

Continued growth in regions with high concentrations of urban population can contribute to their further economic development by providing additional labour, as well as economies of scale and agglomeration. However, risks associated with an over-concentration of population and economic activities in a limited number of urban centres must also be considered, e.g. in terms of congestion. Continued urban growth requires intensified efforts to promote economic, social and territorial cohesion in urban areas, and to ensure that they remain ecologically sustainable.

Evidence shows that not only predominantly urban areas have a growing population, but also to a large extent regions with other attractive features, e.g. coastal regions in France, Spain and Portugal.

Another important trend observed is suburbanisation, i.e. high population growth around main urban centres. Such a growth may correspond to sprawl, but also to more polycentric patterns of urban areas with hierarchical systems of secondary and tertiary centres.

Policy context

There are significant costs associated with population shifts, as infrastructure and service provision facilities need to be developed in some parts of the territory and downscaled or dismantled in others. These costs are largely supported by public authorities. ‚ÄúShrinking regions‚ÄĚ and ‚Äúshrinking cities‚ÄĚ have been an increasingly important issue in policy debates over the last decade. At the same time, a number of cities need to address challenges such as traffic congestion, lack of adequate housing and insufficient capacity of infrastructures. Long-term strategies for infrastructure investments and service provision need to be designed by taking into account observed and foreseen population changes.

As shown in the Sixth Cohesion report, GDP growth in Metropolitan regions has proved more prone to booms and busts than in rural regions. This higher resilience of rural regions is an additional argument in favour of balanced development across all parts of the European territory, as advocated by the Territorial Agenda.

Map interpretation

General population trends are illustrated in the map. The map illustrates population change of NUTS 3 regions compared to the EU average and by urbanisation level. Each European country can be characterised by different types of demographic development, e.g. depending on birth rates, migration, life expectancy and ageing.

At the European scale, the map reflects a general population shift from the East and North to the South and West of Europe. However, there are a few exceptions in areas Central and Southern Europe, affected by long-term economic downturn, such as Southern Italy, Greece, most of Portugal and East Germany. These regions experience population decline. Other exceptions are Romania and some regions in Finland and Bulgaria which show population growth.

At a national scale population changes between predominantly rural and urban areas can be observed. The map shows population growth by different levels of urbanisation of NUTS3 regions. Comparing the growth rates of these regions gives a general overview of the urban and rural relations. In many countries the metropolitan areas are growing, while more peripheral regions have less population change. This trend is most visible in Eastern and Southeast Europe, where large cities and their rural surroundings have higher demographic growth than other regions. In Italy, France, Spain, the UK and Ireland the differences in growth rates between urban and rural regions is more dispersed. Regions in the UK, Ireland and the Mediterranean arch show an increase in population over the last decade.

It should be noted that regions shown in this map are of variable extent and experience diverse internal demographic trends. As a result, regional trends such as suburbanisation are visible in parts of Europe where central urban areas and their surroundings belong to different regions, whereas they do not become visible in other regions. Similarly, demographic growth in ‚Äúpredominantly rural‚ÄĚ regions may in fact be concentrated in these regions‚Äô urban centres.

Concepts and methods

The map shows a typology of population performance in three types of NUTS3 regions by urban settlements represented in a matrix.

Population performance is defined as the population growth rate change between 2001 and 2011 compared to EU average. Quartiles around the European average have been defined, making it possible to distinguish between region with very low growth, low growth, high growth and very high growth compared to EU average. These four different groups are illustrated by increasing brightness of the colours of the NUTS3 regions.

The other three classes of the typology show the degree of urbanisation of the NUTS3 regions, visualised in red, grey and green. The degree of urbanisation is illustrated by settlement structure, measured in High Density Urban Clusters (HDUC). These cluster are characterised by a population above 50 000 inhabitants and a density above 1500 inhabitants per square kilometer. HDUC illustrates predominantly urban regions HDUC of more than 70%, or rural regions with a HDUC lower than 30% which represent mostly clusters of small towns with less than 500 residents.


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