European second tier cities in cohesive territorial development


31 May 2016

Berlin - Germany, 1st of June 2016

Europe's second tier cities are important growth poles. They play a vital role within their national urban systems and often even perform better than their capital cities. The economic crisis has had a major impact on many second tier cities and more than 75% of them experienced a drop in their GDP during 2007-2009. After catching-up before the crisis, the gap between capitals and second tier cities began to widen again.

This workshop looked at how second tier cities in Europe fared throughout the economic crisis and how they managed to emerge of the economic turmoil. The role of these cities in supporting a polycentric and cohesive territorial development was the key focus of the event. ESPON presented updated evidence in this respect, while the ESPON Contact Point for Germany gave an overview on the development of the urban system in Germany over the past ten years. A panel of policy makers/practitioners from second tier and capital cities then discussed ways of reinforcing the momentum of second tier cities' development. The workshop concluded with an informative part on ESPON tools that can be useful for cities.

DSC_0262 DSC_0266
DSC_0269 DSC_0273



The event attracted 33 participants from public authorities (local, regional and national level), research and the private sector.


The ESPON Workshop took place on the 1st of June 2016 at the Metropolitan Solutions 2016 in Berlin.

DSC_0275 DSC_0280
DSC_0282 IMG_2368


Broad conclusions of the day

  • There is a need to create a typology of second tier cities in order to make more meaningful comparisons across Europe since they are highly diverse.
  • The definition of a city by its morphological, functional or administrative extent relies on the objective of a study/policy and the geographical level that the urban structures are observed on.
  • Cooperation is key in the sustainable development of cities and contributes positively to their prosperity and attractiveness. This goes for cooperation among cities of all sizes, cooperation across different levels of governance but also for urban-rural cooperation.
  • Cooperation though requires the necessary human capacity, which is lacking many cities, particularly smaller ones. Capital cities can play a supportive role here and support second tier and other cities in capacity building.
  • In this context, incentives by national authorities can play an important role for setting up cooperation schemes. In Germany, for instance, the Federal Ministry for Transport and Digital Infrastructure runs the action programme “model projects for spatial planning”, which supports the testing and implementation of innovative approaches to and instruments for spatial planning. These projects are implemented in a cooperative setting, involving researchers and practitioners, the latter being from the specific territories addressed by the projects.
  • When looking at second tier cities and their distribution across the territory, it is important to also think and act across national borders. For the capital city of Berlin, for example, being geographically very close to Poland, it is very important to further connect with the second tier Polish cities that are located in the wider metropolitan area of Berlin (e.g. Szczecin).
  • The concept of ‘second tier urban regions’ could be followed by second tier cities as means to improve e.g. their urban functions. By joining forces in a ‘second tier urban region’ the cities involved could become stronger actors when discussing with other levels of governance. This concept could be particularly interesting for second tier cities located in countries with dominant capitals and embedded in larger and densely occupied urbanised areas.
  • In order to get a more comprehensive picture of the development opportunities and challenges of cities, future research should look more into aspects of quality of life and develop new indicators to measure the latter. The development of second tier cities and for territories in general, is not only about the economy.
  • Future research could for instance look into whether there are links between the optimal size of a city and the happiness of people living there, or factors that contribute to making cities sustainable and attractive to live in.
  • By the same token, more qualitative analytical work is needed to get more detailed and better elaborated evidence on success factors for cities’ positive development. ESPON should play a role in this field and come up with new data and new indicators.
  • European territorial cooperation programmes can be very useful in supporting cooperation among cities or cooperation of cities with other tiers of governance.


Please don’t hesitate to contact ESPON ([email protected]) should you need further information.