userInternational Working Group
Small towns and metropolitan cores: towards cooperation?
  • map
  • Urban development


  • Position of small towns in the spatial network
  • Socio-economic development of small towns
  • Policy arrangements for small towns

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

In the era of globalisation, large cities and metropolitan city-regions are often seen as major places of knowledge- innovation and creativity-based society. However, while 30% of the EU population lives in cities of more than 100,000 inhabitants, 38% live in smaller urban centres with a population between 5,000 and 100,000 (EC 2011: 14). On various grounds, academics and practitioners at the national and EU scale debate significantly less about the situation and the challenges faced by smaller urban settlements. Nevertheless, the limitation within the size and functionality of small towns is still not unanimous within the research community, particularly that the national contexts in Europe differ on multiple layers. Small towns are, therefore, uncontestedly heterogeneous regarding their spatial position. They may be included in urban regions, isolated in rural areas, or be part of a network of towns of a similar size (ÖIR 2006). These preconditions do not only imply a different position in the spatial network but also strongly influence the range of challenges faced by these towns and thus affect their development predispositions. Up to this time, across Europe, few studies have been devoted to small towns being part of a larger metropolitan area (see e.g., Adam 2006), and even less analysis has been carried out on how territorial cooperation can generate mutual benefits or challenges between metropolitan core and small urban poles (Dembski et al. 2017).

All these aspects mentioned above stress the necessity to establish an international working group, "Small towns and metropolitan cores: towards cooperation? A European perspective", to further enhance a common European debate on the future of small towns.

Therefore, our international working group aims at analysing how small European towns - in all their diversity - face metropolitan development and associated challenges. Besides, the significance is set at developing a transnational and interdisciplinary approach to the chosen topic by building on already existing scientific traditions of studying small towns in various European countries. In order to follow this research path successfully, several research questions emerge:

  • Regarding the position of small towns in the spatial network: 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 could develop outside of a metropolitan milieu?
  • Regarding the policy arrangements 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 respond to it creatively?


January 2021 - 1. Online-Meeting
Meeting in presence in Berlin, Germany


1st meeting online

These key issues and others were widely brainstormed by the whole group during the first online meeting [in January 2021].


Meeting in Berlin

Intending to enforce further thematic discussion and narrow down the scope of the joint work, the group met in Berlin, Germany, on 23-25.08.2021.