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The profile of the city

Measuring quality of life and sustainability of medium-sized cities
Terrassa / Spain
Size of city: 
215 121 habitants


Joan Chicón
Head of Department for European and International Affairs and City Marketing
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A network of medium-sized cities in Catalonia (ES) has been working since 1988 on a collaborative, integrated and continuous Research and Development programme to get indicators to measure Quality of Life and Sustainability (QofL&S) at the local scale. This is useful for benchmarking and positioning, and for decision-making processes. The network developed a common methodology to select and discuss indicators, and manage how to use them in decision-making processes related to indicators from public policies management. The participants believe that the creation of a common resources system is useful for every agent involved in urban development processes, helping to value and measure the key elements influencing the quality of life in medium-sized cities. The Profile of the City contributes to the existing body of knowledge on the definition of public policies designed to improve the quality of life of medium-sized cities.

The solutions offered by the good practice

The project developed a methodological tool, which we will call tableau de bord, that will ease and inform policy decision-making, as well as offering an instrument to link and commit citizens to the assessment of the QofL&S in their own environments. The project will unfold in several work packages that will involve different timing and partners.
The action plan is divided in two different work lines: the first line of action, the core activity of the project refers to the measurement of the QofL&S, as defined, of European medium-sized cities based on the construction of a set of indicators relevant to policy making.
The other line of action includes the complementary activities that refer to the reinforcement of the skills needed for managing quality of life and sustainability, and all the communication and diffusion activities well beyond the network. Work packages included in the core action line are the following:
• Definition (permanent) of the tableau de bord;
• Establishment of a socio-economic observatory in each locality;
• Information collection;
• Analysis of the information;
• Review of the cities profiles and review of the decision supporting tool;
• And communication of the profiles (currently by a yearly report and a blog posted on its web site:
The tool will be built on the conceptual development of a methodology to tackle issues related to QofL&S from a local point of view and focusing on its usefulness for city planning.

Building on the sustainable and integrated approach

The practice is directly related to urban policy development, focusing on the core of economic and social matters. Measuring QofL is a way to obtain the very essential base to start an evaluation of those policies, as in fact these measures (the indicators) have been used for policy-makers, even in a confrontation with opinions or perceptions of citizens, especially during the deepest moments of crisis.
The actions of The Profile of the City have as their most visible result the construction of models of quantifiable profiles of the quality of life of a city, based on measures or calculations from official statistics and the local government’s management data (and also now in databases of private companies, on which the network is currently working, connected with smart-city processes and impact analyses of public policies).

Based on a participatory approach

The network is providing an annual report about the quality of life indicators, through which indicators city partners are compared, also thinking about the historical series to not lose evolutive dimension, divided into eight chapters (demography, labour market, housing, economic and business activity, enterprises fabric, social cohesion and sustainability, and finally a special part on synthetic diagrams of local information, related to evolution benchmarking). Also, an open blog is provided to express and debate several contributions on experiences on data use and new statistics and methodologies, and also for expressing opinions on the results of public policies, as a way of evaluation of those policies. The net also organises training sessions or conferences and meetings in order to communicate, argue and discuss the results of its reports. All the activities of this network are published through its web site ( The report is reviewed through deep working sessions, very participative, taking into account the significance and pertinence of indicators, their very lateness and also their usability. Members are also committed to taking part in the composition and writing of the final report and also about contributions to the experiences blog.

What difference has it made?

Profile of the City aims at improving the knowledge on structural changes in an urban environment and measures the impacts of those transformations on the QofL. It will do so by producing a conceptual and methodological tool to promote a framework of sustainable development in medium-sized cities, assess the QofL and inform urban policy decision-making. Special attention will be given to overcoming the sectoral approach to urban policy development and ensuring stakeholders participation in the definition of this decision-supporting tool. The proposal seeks a holistic view of living conditions and a multidimensional definition of sustainability and QofL. That is why this project intends to develop a common place where local authorities, economic agents, interest groups
and citizens can share their notions of quality of life and sustainability and improve their measurement through agreement, sharing and the process-line “reflection/initiative/action”. The main difference is focusing on the link between the evolution of social or territorial indicators and the evolution of management ones, which leads decision-makers to ask some critical questions about the continuity and pertinence of several public programmes. The annual report is a basis for a constructive discussion on local development policies and also the treatment of sustainability matters, especially related to urban environment and the contribution on heat islands and on climate change process.

Why should other European cities use it?

The initiative can be useful for other cities, as we have already said (see sections 1 and 2). But for a double motivation:
(1) To implement progress in territorial cooperation (technically, horizontally) of cities and wider territories, on their own competencies and responsibilities, and
(2) The permanent evaluation of implementation and impulse of public policies for each city from its own indicators and also in a comparative way with other cities, to get enough reference to know what position was gotten. It is from a temporary and comparative serial of quantitative indicators.
In fact, this practice was shared with other partners (local authorities) in Europe in several methodological meetings. Also is related with statistic aims of Eurostat and Eurocities in actions providing indicators for territories/administrations smaller than states or regions, in a similar way than that done by EU Urban Audit for bigger (capital) cities. It was extremely interesting to compare methodologies and to learn about other experiences developed by other possible partners in other countries. Ours is rather a learning organisation.