Challenges of Small and Medium-Sized Urban Areas (SMUAs), their economic growth potential and impact on territorial development in the European Union and Latvia

EUKN, 2015


Small and Medium-Sized Urban Areas (SMUAs) have been at the core of urbanisation in Europe for decades. However, they are largely unexplored in terms of social, spatial and economic trends because of the lack of comparable data and relative political disregard. This analysis has the aim of shedding light on the main challenges, barriers and potentials or SMUAs for economic development.

This report contains a number of case studies illustrating the advantages and challenges of SMUAs.

Case studies selected for this report and synthesised findings from existing research show that SMUs can be important for territorial development in several ways:

  • SMUAs are important centres of jobs, public and private services
  • SMUAs play a role in the wellbeing and livelihood not only for their inhabitants but also to rural populations of surrounding areas
  • SMUAs help to avoid rural depopulation and urban drift, promote more balanced overall regional development

Among key preconditions for the development of SMUAs are: Social and economic preconditions, Territorial preconditions, Institutional preconditions, and governance.

Based on the synthesis of relevant research, the report draws some key policy recommendations:

  • SMUAs may be able to retain their functions, achieve higher connectivity while maintaining their cultural and historical identities, and build on their strengths.
  • EU policies to support urban and territorial development should take account of the specific needs and potentials of SMUAs.
  • SMUAs should receive due attention in each country's priorities for urban and territorial development.
  • National and regional policies should support territorial cooperation among SMUs and surrounding areas, in order to build critical mass.