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Small towns and metropolitan cores: towards cooperation? A European perspective

Christophe Demazière
(c) Foto: Evelyn Gustedt
Foto: Evelyn Gustedt


In the current globalization era, we consider large cities and metropolitan city-regions as major places of a society based on knowledge, innovation and creativity. Nevertheless, while 30% of the EU population lives in cities of more than 100,000 inhabitants, 38% lives in urban settlements of populations between 5,000 and 100,000 (European Commission, 2011). For several reasons, academics and practitioners at the national and EU scale debate much less the situation of and the challenges faced by smaller urban settlements. The limits of size and functions of ‘small towns’ are not unanimous within the research community and the national contexts in Europe are quite different. Small towns are heterogeneous regarding their spatial position: they may be included in urban regions, isolated in rural areas or part of a network of towns of a similar size (ÖIR, 2006). Across Europe, few studies have been devoted to small towns being part of a larger metropolitan area (Adam, 2006). Even less analysis is available on how territorial cooperation can bring reciprocal benefits or challenges between metropolitan core and intermediate urban poles (Dembski et al., 2017). Another debate is about the contribution of such towns to overall economic growth. 

(c) Foto: Evelyn Gustedt
Foto: Evelyn Gustedt


The international working group will analyse how European small towns, in all their diversity, face metropolitan development and its associated challenges. Aiming at developing a transnational and interdisciplinary approach to the chosen topic, the working group will build on the scientific traditions of studying small towns in various European countries and will explore several main research questions: 

  • Regarding the spatial position of small towns: How does the urban hierarchy affect the development of small towns? 
  • Regarding the socio-economic development of small towns: Does metropolitan efficiency, in reality, benefit the non-metropolitan regions or, can small towns demonstrate that technological innovation can develop outside of a metropolitan milieu? 
  • Regarding the policy arrangements in/for small towns: Does the ‘human scale’ of small towns and the relatively lower level of complexity compared to metropolitan areas make it easier for communities to have a comprehensive understanding of the local situation and to respond in a creative way?