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European small cities and towns: a territorial contextualization of vulnerable demographic situations

Abstract : Unlike in North American countries, only a slight majority of European inhabitants live in cities and towns (58% according to our databases) but nearly half in small ones, i.e. of between 10 000 and 50 000 inhabitants. The density of small cities and towns in Europe is the result of a long-standing urban pattern that was established mainly in the late Middle Ages. Whereas European planning policies focus mainly on large urban functional areas, we assume that they should pay more attention to these small cities and towns, especially when these are located far from metropolitan regions and are facing demographic challenges such as aging and/or population loss. On the bases of harmonised datasets that cover 29 European countries, we suggest the importance of studying urban agglomerations rather than metropolitan areas, in considering to its full extent the large heterogeneity of small cities and towns in Europe. We started from a harmonized urban database, originally defined in 2004 by the European Environment Agency from CORINE Land Cover images and continuous built-up areas criteria (Milego 2007) and enriched in the framework of ESPON DATABASE 2007-2013 (Guérois et al. 2012). There are 4304 UMZ larger than 10 000 inhabitants, among them 3421 are less than 50 000 inhabitants, and some of them lay inside regions lacking in any functional urban area defined from Eurostat (New Larger Urban Zone, Djikstra and Poelman 2012). We defined small cities and towns as UMZ populated between 10 000 and 50 000 inhabitants. We first constructed a multi-scalar urban-rural typology that describes the relative situation of small UMZ in 2001 according to seven settlement contexts, the two extremes being “remote rural area” and “region dominated by a large metropolis” (Bretagnolle et al. 2014). These settlement contexts are then crossed with demographic indicators. We first considered age structure in 2001 and enlighten 260 small cities characterized by ageing profiles and rural isolation, with a concentration in Sweden, central France and central Italy but also in Finland, Central Europe, Spain and Portugal. The SIRE database’s lack of economic variables or other demographic indicators such as migratory and natural balance had led us to to question the attractiveness of a city through another dimension, i.e. the evolution of its total population over a substantial period of time, between 1981 and 2011. We found 304 small cities characterized by constant population losses over the three last decades: mapping these results showed a major concentration of these cities in Germany and France, but they were also present in Hungary, Bulgaria, Italy and Sweden. By combining those three dimensions, we finally identified the most problematic situations, i.e. small cities located in rural areas and characterized by population loss and ageing profiles. The total number of such cities is only 50, in other words less than 2% of the European cities and towns. However, they are located in one third of the European countries, and when considering the number of affected regions (NUTs 3), they represent not less than 10% of the French “départements”, 15% of the Hungarian “megyeks” and the major part of the Swedish “län”.
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https://halshs.archives-ouvertes.fr/halshs-01971835
Contributor : Anne Bretagnolle <>
Submitted on : Monday, January 7, 2019 - 1:16:57 PM
Last modification on : Tuesday, January 19, 2021 - 11:08:58 AM

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  • HAL Id : halshs-01971835, version 1

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Anne Bretagnolle, Marianne Guérois, Antonin Pavard. European small cities and towns: a territorial contextualization of vulnerable demographic situations. ASRDLF- ERSA GR 15th Conference, Jul 2017, Athènes, Greece. ⟨halshs-01971835⟩

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