EUKN interview with Ms Ioana Ivanov

17 September 2018

The EUKN conducted an interview with Ioana Ivanov from Civitta, focusing on Functional Urban Areas in light of the preparatory study "Functional Areas in Member States of the Council of Europe" for the 17th Session of the Council of Europe Conference of Ministers responsible for Spatial Planning (CEMAT) that took place in November 2017.


EUKN: In the report, you mention that there exist multiple definitions and delimitations of FUAs (e.g. OECD, CoE, EUROCITIES, EC, etc.). Did you experience any difficulties to gather consistent data? How do you think the global harmonization of data for monitoring and analysis of the FUAs can be achieved?

I.I: The study on Functional Areas in the Council of Europe provides a general definition of the concept of functional area and identifies a series of functional areas in Member States. One of our first conclusions was that, beyond the general definition, there is no common position or acknowledgement of the classification and types of functional areas at European level – this also applies to FUAs (terminology varies, including: FUA, metropolitan area, peri-urban area, urban agglomeration, growth pole). This is why we did not intend to collect specific data, much less indicators – given the number of countries and functional areas types it would have been impossible. We rather tried to understand what the perception and approach towards functional areas in the Member States is, if and how this concept could be implemented at European level in order to support the formulation of territorial development policies to protect and capitalize on the regional and local potential in a sustainable manner.

Based on responses to the questionnaire for Member States and documentary research, it was noted that FUAs fall into the categories of functional areas most often found in the Council of Europe (they could be identified in 32 out of 47 Member States). However, before thinking about a global harmonization of data for monitoring and analysis of the FUAs, we have to think about a harmonized definition. In this regard, we consider that, to qualify as functional areas, FUAs have to show three main dimensions: (1) governance mechanisms, (2) a system of cooperation relations resulting from a common goal (solving common problems or capitalizing on the local potential) and (3) functional relationships, where mobility and communications play a particularly important role.

In this context, many functional urban areas reported by Member Stated or identified through desk research may be rather deemed “potential FUAs”, given that, in many cases, they are delimited by technical studies (e.g. ESPON29 or OECD), without being politically acknowledged at local level and used for decision making, integrated strategies, policies or projects. Several Member States identified metropolitan areas as FUAs, which was interesting because metropolitan areas are, compared to other types of FUAs, often delineated based on political criteria, starting from voluntary associations between settlements. Sometimes, the delineation of these areas does not overlap the delineations resulting from technical studies – a global harmonization of definitions and data for monitoring and analysis of the FUAs could prevent such situations and support evidence-based policies. Moreover, the involvement of political factors and the existence of a form of governance creates the premises for integrated planning and/ or project implementation at FUA level.

The study also looked at data accessibility and avoiding redundancy, as key aspects for efficient territorial development processes and policies. Given the complexity and size of the CoE territory, on the one hand, and the complexity of the functional areas – related issues, on the other hand, we experienced difficulties in terms of the accessibility, comparability and relevance of data. Some of the issues we encountered include territorial coverage of different databases, different data collection methodologies and the different legislations of the CoE Member States. With regard to FUAs, it is problematic that only general socio-economic data is, to some extent, available at this level, while specific data regarding commuting, for example, does not appear in the data aggregated at EU or CoE level due to the lack of data or the different measurement and monitoring models.

In terms of harmonization of data for monitoring and analysis of FUAs, having a common definition and methodology such as the EU-OECD functional urban area one is important, and its success will depend on the adoption rate by the Member States. Also, to analyse and monitor FUAs, the relevant data level is the local one, namely NUTS 3 and LAU, where data availability at European level is currently rather low. To develop a common database, national statistics institutes and responsible EU bodies should cooperate and analyse what data is feasible and relevant to be supplied according to a common methodology and be added in existing European databases (e.g. Eurostat/ESPON). Additionally, innovative data collection methodologies (for instance, geo-referential statistics or geographical coding) for territorial analysis and alternative data sources could be explored. For example, in the case of commuting a possible approach could consist of capitalizing on the Sustainable Urban Mobility Plans’ databases, as SUMPs have already been adopted by many CoE Member States, being promoted within and outside the EU and following a more-or-less common methodology. This could be done in the next programming period when current SUMPs will have to be updated, if commuting data will become a requirement in the European SUMP methodology.


EUKN: The fast urbanisation pace in Europe brings about a number of challenges, one of them being urban sprawl. The Urban Agenda for the EU Partnership on Sustainable Use of Land and Nature Based Solutions proposes to promote a cooperation between different FUAs in order to use land in a more sustainable way and avoid the hidden costs of urban sprawl. Since the report also particularly emphasizes complementarity with the surrounding areas as one of the important aspects of FUA, do you think that such cooperation can tackle this issue, and how?

I.I:  As stated in the Sustainable Use of Land and Nature-Based Solutions Partnership Draft Action Plan, FUAs can help dealing effectively and at the necessary territorial level with urban sprawl, through integrated spatial planning going beyond the city’s administrative borders. FUAs - understood in this specific context not only as “the cities and their commuting zones”, but as partnerships built for integrated planning, can ensure the governance and management mechanisms to contain, prevent and reverse the existing urban sprawl, by developing and implementing land policies and directing investments to designated areas.  

An important challenge in this sense is achieving a functional governance structure and support form relevant stakeholders (including citizens), as sustainable use of land and nature-based solutions could often be considered unpopular because of a lack of understanding of the added value for the community or no immediate benefits. In this context, a highly participative approach on the planning of such solutions could help.

Also, sustainable use of land and nature-based solutions cannot be approached independently, but it should become a component of the FUA integrated development strategy/ action plan or dedicated sectoral strategies or plans, given its relevance at European level. Moreover, planning at FUA level aiming for sustainable land use is not necessarily conditioned by fighting urban sprawl – it could target attracting investments to specific areas inside or outside the city to improve the urban environment and/ or fight pollution, planning extended green infrastructure, implementing circular economy solutions, conducting research and urban experimentation etc., supporting all other proposed actions in the Action Plan, depending on the local needs.  

As regards cooperation models and good practices for FUA development and cooperation, in our study we referred at Eindhoven Urban Region (Netherlands), but there are other examples to consider, including FUAs that built integrated urban development strategies based on Art. 7 and implemented integrated territorial investments, such as Warsaw. Including sustainable use of land and nature-based solutions projects in ITIs could be feasible, depending on the next programming period’s funding priorities. Additional funding or examples for urban authorities could come from Urban Innovative Actions and URBACT programmes, supporting knowledge exchange and interventions in this field and related areas.


EUKN: What is your experience regarding the cooperation within the FUAs? What are your suggestions in terms of the best ways to establish such cooperation (e.g. knowledge about possible regulatory frameworks to adopt, financial incentives, stakeholders’ engagement, etc.)? Could you please provide us with good examples about mentioned cooperation?

I.I: Based on my experience working with FUAs in Romania both for strategy development and for analytical purposes, some of the challenges regarding the actual functionality of the territory and the cooperation within the FUA refer to: (1) the disconnection between technical and political approaches - similar to other European cases, there’s an overlapping of delineations based on methodologies of OECD, ESPON-IGEAT, national law and academic research. Different delineations are used depending on the case and the purpose; (2) the common understanding of the added value of cooperation between local authorities in the area – it is important that the steering committees of FUAs mostly consist of the elected representatives of the communities involved and that a balance is ensured between the rights, obligations and benefits of all parties, without risking that the main city monopolizes the discussion, (3) capacity to manage the development process and to implement common projects, (4) long-lasting FUAs/ metropolitan areas, whose delineation and scope should be updated due to socio-economic and territorial development dynamics.

In practice, the most active form of cooperation happens in FUAs/metropolitan areas, defined by national law and based on voluntary association between large or medium-sized cities and surrounding settlements – or, as stated in one of the answers we received from Member States, “Most of the real cooperation is based on political decisions”.

As one of the respondents to our questionnaire described the collaboration within FUAs, probably the best way to establish truly functional FUAs is to have a moderate, place-based approach, which conciliates the theoretical and political approaches – e.g. the methodology for delineation can be used to ensure a common understanding regarding the FUA, such as the general relation city-hinterland, indicating the core of the urban-rural cooperation relations, supporting territorial contiguity and an integrated territorial development logic. However, most of the active urban areas work  together based on agreements  between  their  decision-makers that relate to more than statistics. It is important for every partner to have a stake.

In terms of the best ways to establish cooperation in FUAs, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. In the study we mapped options regarding the territorial administrative and institutional frameworks and their relationship with functional areas, including the following criteria: the type of the partnership, objectives of the FUA, territory delimitation, legislative framework, power allocation, funding, strategic framework.  According to the local context and the administrative and functional framework, various planning tools can be used (strategies, masterplans etc.).

As far as incentives are concerned, one of our main conclusions is that funding is a key aspect for the adoption of an approach based on functional areas. EU policies, including those tackling the co-funding of interventions in EU Member States, have had a both direct and indirect influence on territorial development and the relevant policies, with changes seen in both the urban and the rural environment, and establishment of networks and governance process building on European principles. Moreover, in case of FUAs, as well as in the case of functional rural areas, we can say funding has sometimes proven a decisive factor for cooperation and the development of functional areas. As far as FUAs are concerned, an EU-wide framework fostering planning at the functional area level has already been put in place under Article 7 of Regulation No 1301/2013 referring to the integrated urban development strategies, as well as funding opportunities were provided based on the strategies and/ or through the ITI mechanism. Additionally, at the national and regional levels, the development of functional areas could be further supported by the allocation of governmental funds, subject to national contexts and limitations.


EUKN: How can experiences from outside the EU inform the debate on FUAs?

I.I:  The first thing that comes to mind in this regard is that the largest European FUAs, or, as they define themselves, metropolitan areas/ municipalities, are not in the EU – Moscow, Istanbul. Also, Istanbul had the highest economic performance in Eastern Europe between 2014 and 2016 in terms of jobs creation and expanding GDP per capita and had the highest economic growth in Europe according to the 2018 Global Metro Monitor (Metropolitan Policy Program at Brookings).  In this context, experiences from outside the EU can provide valuable information and case studies on metropolitan governance and complex challenges related to size, cooperation mechanisms and growth management.

On the other hand, the large number of CoE member states we analysed show a great diversity in terms of planning culture, socio-economic and territorial development patterns and competitiveness, that should be explored and could provide innovative ideas. Nevertheless, in some cases the metropolitan cooperation has a history of over 30 years (based on national law and methodologies), that can provide examples on regulatory and strategic frameworks, the establishment, functioning and update of FUAs.

Last but not least, the answers to our questionnaire showed that there are countries from outside the EU that already use or are interested to adopt methodologies for functional areas delineation, planning and management which have been accepted at European level, in order to ensure comparability. This could support the efforts for harmonization at EU level, which is particularly important, as relevant data availability is even lower in non-EU countries.


EUKN: Lastly, what are your expectations regarding the position of FUAs in the new Cohesion Policy (after 2020)?

I. I: Given that the Cohesion Policy post 2020 further supports locally-led development strategies, empowers local authorities in the management of the funds and has a stronger urban dimension, with 6% of the ERDF dedicated to sustainable urban development, I expect that the FUA debate will heat up and that FUA will become the recommended integrated planning level, at least for large cities. Such an approach would come naturally after the current programming period when, for example, in Romania the seven growth poles had to plan at FUA/ metropolitan area level in order access the sustainable urban development funds.

Also, I expect that during the post 2020 programming period, and even before, good practices regarding FUAs that benefitted from EU co-financing will be promoted, raising awareness on the opportunities for other cities.

On the other hand, given the diversity of national and local contexts, cities and FUAs implementing projects should be granted sufficient flexibility to adapt EU priorities to the local needs, as long as they contribute to the common EU objectives, in a place-based approach.

FUA development should also be supported by capacity building and networking, enabling that the European cities are more closely engaged in the future European governance system. In this context, an integrated approach of FUAs demands a high level of coordination and cooperation at all levels: local, regional, national and European. Another need for capacity building refers to new funding models and urban investments (e.g. further promotion of URBIS and additional activities).