Potential population change in EU metropolitan areas, 2011

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Observations for policy

Urban size brings certain benefits, but it also comes at a cost. In most European cities investigated, costs and benefits of the urban size appear to hold a balance. However, in some cities the costs outweigh the benefits and in some it is the other way around.

Developing urban quality, urban amenities and attracting highly qualified labour force is due to generate enhanced attractiveness and competitiveness, once again supporting a wider, more diversified urban realm. A potentially beneficial and virtuous cycle of urban development may be triggered along these lines.

Policy context

The importance of cities for European territorial development is not at least underlined by EU regional policies and the Leipzig Charter on Sustainable European Cities. At the same time it is widely accepted that cities are considered to be the engines of economic development. Cities are also at the frontline when it comes to tackling obstacles to growth and employment, such as social exclusion and environmental degradation. But very often urban and regional policy debates question the optimal size of urban areas. The same applies to the number of inhabitants.

Map interpretation

The map is based on the idea that urban population size implies both benefits and costs for the city. Size is therefore a dual concept representing a joint source of positive as well as negative externalities for city dwellers. The map shows to what degree a city has reached the situation where the benefits (i.e. attractiveness, diversity of the economic base, high levels of skills and R&D involvement) and the costs of its size (i.e. property price levels, criminality, and green spaces) balance between each other to reach the equilibrium.

Most European cities are close to such equilibrium indicating good preconditions for futher urban growth. Besides, there are two smaller groups of cities with important deviations:

Concepts and methods

The map is based on a spatial equilibrium model bringing together the total costs, the total urban benefits and the size of a city. The indicators used are the following:

As there is no comprehensive list of metropolitan regions in Europe to test the empirical model, the map merely illustrates a sample of 59 LUZs from the Urban Audit data collection.