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The State of European Cities 2016 Cities leading the way to a better future

European Commission. 2016.HS Number: HS/053/16E | ISBN Number: (Volume) 978-92-1-132717-5 Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union, 2016 ISBN: 978-92-79-63278-5 (print) | ISBN: 978-92-79-63279-2 (Epub) DOI: 10.2776/636682 (print) | DOI: 10.2776/643506 (Epub)

Monday 4 March 2019, by Carlos San Juan


The objective of the report is to support more evidence-based urban policy making in Europe. Besides assessing economic, social and environmental trends at the city level, the report also presents a wide range of projects promoting urban development throughout the EU. Many EU cities have benefited from the more than EUR 100 billion invested through EU Cohesion Policy programmes since 2007. In addition, the report describes many of the other EU actions with a strong urban dimension.

The State of European Cities 2016 Cities leading the way to a better future

Executive summary

European cities are distinct in terms of size and density

The average density of a European city is 3,000 inhabitants per km2 . This density is often described as the minimum required to sustain efficient public transport. North American cities, with a median density of only 1,600 inhabitants per km2 , have greater difficulty sustaining public transport. Cities in Africa, Asia and Latin America are much more compact than their European counterparts with densities ranging between 4,000 and 8,000. Another distinctive feature of European cities is their relatively smaller size. Only two cities, Paris and London, can be considered megacities with populations of just over 10 million. Other major global regions have megacities exceeding 15 or even 30 million inhabitants, with the number of megacities worldwide almost tripling from 10 to 28 over the last 25 years.

Cities attract working-age and foreign-born residents

Population growth in cities is fuelled by higher natural change and higher net migration. Working-age people in particular tend to move to a city looking for education and job opportunities, while those over 65 tend to move to less expensive locations (towns, suburbs or rural areas). Due to these movements, city dwellers tend to be younger and projections indicate that demographic ageing among city populations is lower. Migrants from outside the EU are also more likely to live in cities and especially the large western European cities host a significant share of the non-EU born population. Capital cities tend to have the highest population growth as well as the highest share of working-age population and of foreign-born population within their country. Cities generate growth and jobs but some risk falling into the middle-income trap

The economic power of cities is growing.

Between 2000 and 2013, GDP growth in cities was 50% higher than in the rest of the EU and employment in cities grew by 7% while it declined slightly in the remainder of the EU. This higher performance is due to the economic advantages of cities, including innovation, specialisation and better access to local and global markets. Not all cities, however, have been able to fully exploit these advantages. Ensuring that more cities live up to their potential would boost economic growth and job creation throughout Europe. The high- and very high-income cities in Europe have generated the highest GDP and employment growth, which has led to higher population growth. The lowincome cities are catching up, with the highest GDP per capita growth, but so far they have experienced very little population growth. Economic growth in medium-income cities was lower than the EU average, which raises the concern that some of these may be facing the middle-income trap, with stiff competition from lower-cost locations but lacking the means to move into higher value-added activities.

Cities are centres of innovation and education

Cities host most of the institutes of higher education in Europe. Specialisation and innovation generate a demand for a highly educated labour force, which encourages city residents to gain qualifications and attracts qualified people from elsewhere. In addition, close interaction between highly skilled workers in cities generates even more innovation. Some of these effects are stronger in big cities but medium-sized cities can also offer such advantages. Many European cities provide excellent examples of how innovation can foster urban development and some of these cities are quite moderate in size, like Eindhoven or Cambridge. Successfully bringing innovation to the market can create new high-growth firms, which tend to concentrate in cities and especially in capital cities. Due to the dense and well-connected network of cities in Europe, some benefit from ‘borrowed size’. This means that cities in close proximity to other cities can become more productive than their size alone would predict. The exact mechanism of this phenomenon is not yet fully understood but is likely to require coordination of specialised services among them.(...)

Full report: The State of European Cities 2016 Cities leading the way to a better future


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