Mapping urban structures, accessibility patterns and territorial cooperation in Europe

The current models and further potentials of polycentric development at different scales in Europe have been analysed by ESPON on the basis of urban structures, accessibility and cooperation practices. Combining these criteria, an ESPON policy brief reveals the pattern of polycentricity in Europe and shows where to promote more functional flows and territorial cooperation.

A strong existing polycentric character

The polycentric character of European regions can be mapped based on the hierarchy of urban settlement structures, accessibility patterns and existing territorial cooperation relationships. Regions scoring highly in all dimensions have a strong polycentric character. This is the case for large parts of the Netherlands and Belgium, the larger metropolitan areas in France, western parts of Germany, Northern Italy, South-East UK and Switzerland.

Areas with potentials for further development

The colourful mosaic of polycentric development patterns and potentials that emerges from this map is once again a reminder of how much more diverse Europe appears when analysing the indicators at NUTS 3 level compared to any observations at country level.

Favourable conditions for further polycentric development can be found where there are relatively dense territorial structures and good accessibility, but where cooperation is less developed. This is for instance the case for metropolitan areas in Central and Eastern Europe, except for the Baltic States.

In cases where relatively dense territorial structures and territorial cooperation exist, the conditions for polycentric development can also be considered relatively favourable, e.g. in Northern Spain, the metropolitan regions in the Nordic countries, and Northern UK.

Dense territorial structures in combination with low scores on the other criteria clearly suggest that more benefits of polycentric development can be achieved by increased accessibility and territorial cooperation. For example, the Slovak Republic displays dense territorial structures with Bratislava as a potential Metropolitan European Growth Area (MEGA) but accessibility is relatively low and there appears to be room for more territorial cooperation.

Promoting better accessibility and territorial cooperation is most crucial for those parts of Europe that are characterised by weak urban structures. These include for example considerable parts of the Baltic States, Poland, Hungary, Romania, and Southern France. The location of these areas in close proximity to more densely populated urban structures presents additional opportunities for enhancing polycentric cooperation practice and functional flows.

Revealing the nature of polycentricity in specific regions

The ESPON policy brief also offers the possibility to discover the factors lying behind the observations on the nature of polycentricity in specific regions. The brief presents maps on the settlement structures in Europe, multimodal accessibility potentials, air passenger flows in Europe, and regional typologies for territorial cooperation.



  • Acrobat Document | 4.01MB