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Urban System and Urbanization

Modern European society is highly urbanized, as the majority of the population lives in cities of different sizes. Cities are having an increasing impact on culture, politics, economics, science and other key areas of human activity.

The urban policy can be understood as focused, institutional and legislative support activities at all levels of government (international, national, regional and local), aimed at achieving a balanced development of cities and to address urban problems. (eea.europa.eu)

By implementing urban policy different levels of government can improve the competitiveness of certain cities, to encourage the use of the city’s resources, to smooth the differences between localities in terms of people’s lives. Also, it is possible to point the regional and local urban policies, the last is often called a city governance. In addition, the urban policy is divided into direct and indirect (explicit and implicit). In direct urban policy all activities are provided by specially created government agencies, and the indirect urban policy represents the combined results of impact of all other public policies (industrial, transport, housing, etc.) on the city.

The characteristics of the urban system in Europe

The European urban policy is part of the EU regional policy and is the most important direction of EU-regional activities. Financing of urban policy, as well as regional policy, is implemented from EU structural funds (mainly from the European Regional Development Fund), therefore, a city is regarded as one of the problem areas. Recently, however, the EU government is aimed at forming an independent urban policy.

The formation of direct (explicit) urban policy of the EU began from the following two documents. In 1997, the EU Commission adopted a major document on the formation of city policy: “On the urban policy of EU member states”, in which it was stated the intention to examine the EU’s policy in terms of its impact on the life of cities, and further strengthen the influence of politics on the municipal level. It was noted that most EU-actions had a noticeable impact on the European cities, that was impossible to ignore. (ec.europa.eu)

Also at the Urban Forum in Vienna (November 1998) was discussed and adopted the second fundamental for European urban policy document: “Sustainable urban development of the European Union: a guide to action.” It proclaimed the need of direct city policy, but also established key principles and areas of urban policy:

  • subsidiarity, which assumes decision-making at the lowest possible level;
  • partnership, implying the involvement of citizens, public and private sectors in solving urban problems;
  • environmental sustainability;
  • market efficiency, assuming a reasonable reliance on market mechanisms. (ec.europa.eu)

Currently, it is possible to talk about well-formed mechanism of urban policy in the EU, which includes:

  • legislative initiatives within the competence of the EU,
  • measures to influence the market,
  • the development of know-how in the field of urban policy and the exchange of experience,
  • financing, particularly through the EU structural funds,
  • special urban development strategies, etc.

Since late 1980 the EU deliberately develops and conducts special activities aimed at cities development, the most important of which are community initiatives URBAN, aimed at social and economic revival of the crisis of cities and suburbs across the EU. These initiatives are a kind of framework programs (the mega-programs), uniting a large number of specific programs and projects of common goals and resources. (urbact.org)

Also, at the conference “Convergence of cities” in London (2002) were discussed the initial results of the URBAN initiative and was signed a declaration calling for strengthened pan-European urban policies to address critical issues: reducing unemployment, reducing crime, improving the quality of life and adaptation of ethnic minorities. (ec.europa.eu)

According to statistics from Eurostat for the period 2000-2006 within URBAN II in support of sustainable economic and social development was spent 730 million euro in 70 urban areas. Despite the fact that the amount of funding was reduced in comparison with the first stage, this does not mean collapse of the program, but rather speaks of the modification of its structure. So, URBAN II completed the program URBACT – European network for exchange of experience (2002-2006) aimed at sharing experiences between European cities. During the program was spent about 24.76 million euro for the study of urban management practices and sharing experiences. (urbact.org)

The information about urban policies in the EU and information about main cities can be found at the Eurostat (epp.eurostat.ec.europa.eu). For example, the “Urban Audit” gives information and comparable measurements on the different aspects of the quality of urban life in European cities. (epp.eurostat.ec.europa.eu)

According to the report “Promoting sustainable urban development in Europe – achievements and opportunities”, and other reports and documents on European Union Regional Policy, the system of urban policy in the EU is based on principles of cooperation between different levels of government, community organizations, businesses, political parties and other key actors in urban development. The major objectives of urban policy are pointed as social goals: to improve the life of the population, reduce social and economic inequalities between different population groups in the city and between different localities. (ec.europa.eu)


Works cited:

Antonescu D., Ghisa-Silea M. “Cities and Their Place in the European Union Urban Policy”. Romanian Journal of Economic Forecasting 2, 2007. Pp.57-68
“About the urban environment”. European Environment Agency. Web. www.eea.europa.eu
“Regions and cities”. Eurostat, European Commission. Web. www. epp.eurostat.ec.europa.eu
“Understanding integrated urban development”. URBACT. Web. www.urbact.org
“Promoting sustainable urban development in Europe – achievements and opportunities”. European Union Regional Policy. Web. www.ec.europa.eu