Europe’s wealth, innovation potential, creativity and talent is largely located in a range of urban areas that are increasingly well-connected to each other and with the global economy at large – by air, fast rail connections, road and advanced information technology. This leads us to important questions about the potential of urban areas to act as engines of growth.
To what extent are urban areas able to play a leading role in the development of their broader regions? This of course depends on a range of economic, social, political, and even historical factors.
Activation, mobilization and motivation are the keywords. Poverty, social exclusion, crime and loss of talent are the common consequences of a failure to break out of the negative economic cycle associated with deindustrialization. Hence, the challenge to break out of the cycle is a very urgent one indeed.
The big question is “how?”. Of course, much depends on individual situations but there are also patterns and the experiences of cities. Key is to provide leadership, a forward looking orientation and a willingness to cooperate. If any city type needs strong economic policies and strategies the European Structural Funds are available to help the transformation process but this source of finance is only effective when used in conjunction with a broader strategic scheme that is supported by all stakeholders. Cities need to build and implement unique strategies that accentuate their strengths and minimize their weaknesses, and take full stock of possible opportunities and threats. They need to be unique not only within their own regions, but preferably on a larger scale as well.
Then, cooperation is the key. By sharing knowledge and experience about topics ranging from e-service provision, entrepreneurship and lifelong or work based learning, thus members of European networks can learn how to make their economies more competitive.
Medium-sized cities constitute the most important class of cities in Europe in demographic terms. Since they are obviously characterized by specific attributes, the challenges faced by medium-sized cities differ from those faced by leading metropolitan cities:
• Medium-sized cities have to cope with competition from the larger metropolises on corresponding issues, but appear less equipped in terms of critical mass, resources and often also institutional and organizing capacity.
• Medium-sized cities may experience disadvantages because of lacking size but may offer assets not available in larger cities.