According to the United Nations 2007 State of the World Population report, 76% of Europeans live in cities with fewer than 500,000 inhabitants. The URBACT NeT-TOPIC project brings together eight intermediate cities located near large cities. They are currently undergoing transformations and face similar problems related to industrial decline, territorial fragmentation and social polarisation. They have long been hidden in the shadows of the “big city”, yet today they are looking to create a new development model that makes them more pleasant to live in and more attractive, as well as giving them a greater role to play within the larger metropolitan area. For three years, Net-TOPIC served as an exchange platform for new tools and approaches related to urban planning and territorial governance, enabling the cities to manage their urban transformation process more effectively.
Examples of good practices and conclusions related to three key issues
During the project, the partner cities and the experts involved in NeT-TOPIC organised three thematic seminars in order to review the major challenges faced by peripheral cities undergoing transformations as they look to build new development models. Each of these seminars led to the publication of a document compiling the Net-T-TOPIC network’s good practices and conclusions.
- Recovering abandoned and obsolete industrial areas and avoiding fragmentation and urban division in peripheral cities of metropolitan areas
- Enhancing new forms of urban and metropolitan governance
- Building new urban identities: from mono-functional to multi-functional cities
Recommendations for cities looking for new urban models
1. Creating new centrality in the peripheral cities of metropolitan areas
In order to successfully carry out endogenous urban development, peripheral cities must first have a clear vision of their new identity and their strategic position within the metropolitan area. It is essential to have a negotiation process with the various stakeholders in the metropolitan area in order to resolve any possible territorial conflicts that could arise as a result of the transformation.
2. Going from being a mono-functional city to be a multi-functional city
Carrying out this transition is not all that it takes to build a new urban identity. For example, taking the path of commercial or residential functionality, for example, could equate with taking the risk of becoming a “suburb of the big city”. As a result, it is essential to have a clear vision of the functions that will fill gaps in the greater urban area, offing the city a competitive advantage. Each city has to define its “differentiating asset” and turn it into a promotional tool. This strategy of diversification at the metropolitan level requires close cooperation between the local level and the greater urban area level, and it also implies taking advantages of both local resources and those related to belonging to the metropolitan area.
3. Towards poly-centric cities
In order to break from the traditional “city centre/suburb” dichotomy and to multiply centrality, it is necessary to localise excellence functionalities in the metropolitan areas. In order for today’s cities to become attractive, they need to link these new city centres together in a coherent manner throughout their territory and transform them into urban quality of life tools.
4. Administrating territories and flows
Reinventing a new urban identity is also about taking into account the flows that transit in the urban area (flows of money, people and goods), and therefore to think outside the borders. This new identity must also be an opportunity to boost the peripheral cities’ capacity for self-organisation, and to mobilise local communities, which were previously dependent, around collective development projects.
5. An overall project framework for the physical transformation.
It is important when planning a transformation of infrastructure that has become obsolete to take into account the convergence of various systems (local, regional and national) and points of view than could be antagonistic. That is why this type of project is best led as part of a much more general evolution of the city, which justifies the scope and cost of the intervention.
6. New interactivity in metropolitan areas. In order to avoid peripheral cities being dependent on a central core, decentralisation and distribution are two key factors that lead to a “transfer of centrality” and a multi-polar model. In this way, the metropolitan area’s identity integrates the various identities of the cities it federates and which commit to building their own singularity.
7. Marrying a local and a metropolitan vision
A city’s dimension is no longer limited to municipal borders: today, city-regions have variable geometry and blurry borders and centralities. To complement a project’s local vision, this context implies building on a metropolitan vision and taking into account interactions that exist at the level of mobility, transport, centralities and urban functionalities. Cities need to decide on their level of integration, but they cannot free themselves of the fact that they belong to a whole.