Small and Medium-Sized Urban Area: the Future of Europe?

One of the major conclusions of the Latvian 2015 EU Presidency was to draw attention to Small and Medium Urban Areas (SMUAs). This acronym unveils what may be the future alpha and omega of our spatial planning and sustainable development policies.


First, SMUAs are industrialised territories with little or no high education opportunities, yet they come with numerous school-age children and a great economic diversification potential. Moreover, giving priority to SMUAs means betting that added value of public intervention concerning employment, environment and social cohesion will be greater here than in larger metropolitan areas. Finally, living in a SMUA means aspiring to a certain quality of life and solidarity which may not always be found in the largest urban areas.


What is it about?

The urban areas of a population between 5 000 and 50 000 inhabitants (and more precisely, with over 5 000 inhabitants and less than 300 inhabitants/km2) – up to 100 000 inhabitants in certain countries. According to ESPON and the first definition, 24.2% of the European population today lives in 8 350 small and medium-sized urban areas. Proportion of SMUAs per country can vary a lot, but it gives us a pretty coherent territorial target, presenting both a critical mass for development and a demarcation with large urban centres.


Seeing SMUAs as a priority of spatial planning implies making more room for European Funds associated with results that are quantifiable and limited in number. This line of thinking matches the current efforts of the European Parliament to make the European Funds related to common result indicators. For instance, business creation rate, the R&D spending, the CO2 emission, the long-term unemployment rate and broadband coverage could be considerably impacted by the European Funds, backed by well targeted national programmes.

Not to say that Small (and Medium) is Beautiful, the notion of SMUA is an issue about the leverage effects of the European Funds facing budget reductions in order to regain agility in the context of economic recovery and deindustrialisation affecting SMUAs first, leaving them no choice but to migrate towards the largest urban areas, making them even more dependant and depriving us of their production and integration capacity.

Franck Sottou
ETCP Director and Key International EU Funds Expert