Small and Medium Sized Towns (TOWN)

TOWN is an ESPON project that commenced in April 2012 and is due to conclude in March 2014. The objective of this research project is to investigate the role of Small and Medium-sized towns (SMSTs) in their functional context and their potentialities for promoting territorial cohesion in Europe. It recognizes SMSTs as crucial territorial factors in realising the EU2020 strategy, and more generally, as crucial elements of the European territory essential to strategies seeking to address the deep economic crisis currently affecting Europe. The focus will be on towns with a population between 5,000 and 50,000. In policy terms these smaller towns sit astride the boundary of policy interests related to the European urban system and of policy interests related to the issue of rural development, as a result they are often overlooked when it comes to policy.  Thus they offer many challenges to policy makers with an interest in integrated policy work but also in terms of building forms of territorial cohesion better able to join up mechanisms for facilitating spatial development in different types of region with the overall aim of a smarter, greener and more inclusive Europe. Given this our research is particularly important as these ‘smaller places’ are rarely the explicit focus of attention. In this sense, there is a ‘major deficit’ in our knowledge, in particular concerning the capacity to frame these crucial territorial elements in a EU-wide perspective in terms of both quantitative and qualitative analyses, and of the types of policies needed to support their development. Thus, the current project will fill in a major gap in both the scientific and policy literatures.

The research project starts from a questioning of the concept of SMST, and how it can be operationalised in a research proposal within the framework of ESPON. The varied and complex nature of SMSTs in their territorial locations requires a specific focus. In order to build a coherent methodological framework that will provide important inputs for a large variety of stakeholders and policymakers, the first research priority will be to use the existing literature on scale, place and uneven development to study the conceptual dimensions of SMSTs. It will provide the basis for an original combination of morphological, quantitative and qualitative methodologies that will provide new evidence, based on comparable information covering the entire European territory in terms of regional characterization of SMSTs, which will be tested and implemented in combination with in-depth analysis of case studies.

In policy terms the TOWN project will be located within the territorial cohesion and placed-based approach developed in the EU over the last decade. Within this context policy is now increasingly recognising the varied roles and functions of SMSTs and the need to develop policies that take into account their particular context and support them within that context as drivers of regional and local development. However, we need to bear in mind that much of this mainly exists in policy documents and is only gradually being translated into policies on the ground in some regions whilst elsewhere experience is very patchy. Thus, the project aims to deliver innovative results that can help understand the roles, potentialities and the threats facing SMSTs across Europe, and that can support policy development in the field of territorial development, competitiveness and cohesion, providing new evidence-based development opportunities for the European territory.

First outcomes of TOWN can be found in the page of the Espon website dedicated to the research project:

http://www.espon.eu/main/Menu_Projects/Menu_AppliedResearch/town.html

Further information on TOWN can be obtained from the project leader Loris Servillo: loris.servillo@asro.kuleuven.be.   

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