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The metropolization of Europe. Functional trends and multi-level governance dynamics

6 hour course by Giancarlo Cotella (Politecnico di Torino)

  • Schedule: 27 & 28 June 2023 (10:00–13:00)

Metropolitan areas are responsible for the production of almost 70% of the EU GDP, and have progressively joined cities as catalysts and drivers of global development, as a consequence of complex processes of socioeconomic reorganisation and rescaling. However, metropolitan matters remain hard to address, also due to the complex relations among the centres, the suburban areas and the large peripheries that characterise metropolitan territories, and the different shape that these relations have in the different countries and regions. No univocal definition of the metropolitan dimension has been agreed upon so far, and various methodologies to define functional urban territories in a consistent way have been developed through time. These Functional Urban Areas definitions are powerful tools to compare the socio-economic and spatial trends that characterise agglomeration economies and can, at the same time, support virtuous changes in the way policies are planned and implemented by providing the right scale to address issues that affect both the core-city and its surrounding municipalities. More in details, they challenge traditional territorial governance models, showing their inadequacy to deal with phenomena hardly manageable within fixed administrative boundaries.

As a consequence, public authorities progressively engaged in the development of strategic visions and plans to tackle challenges that have a clear metropolitan dimension (i.e. housing, mobility, urban planning, employment, economic development, culture etc.), as a way to guide the integration of different spatial developments and engage public and private actors at different scales, beyond the core city alone. Whereas this often occur via informal inter-municipal cooperation, that varies through time and in relation to the issues at stake, a number of governance structures have been institutionalised from the bottom-up, aiming at strategic planning and policy coordination across local governments. At the same time, formal administrative bodies have been established top-down and provided with the responsibility to manage and promote the development of metropolitan territories. Overall, various forms and models of metropolitan governance have been identified, that differ greatly in relation to their level of institutionalisation, the distribution of powers, competences and resources, their internal structure and the actors involved.

The importance of metropolitan areas is also recognised to a certain extent by EU institutions, as it is witnessed by their increasing relevance within EU spatial development guidance document, as well as by the growing share of funds dedicated to urban development that has characterised the recent EU cohesion policy programming periods. Despite these efforts, however, to adopt suitable metropolitan governance and multi-scalar institutional arrangements that can exploit these opportunities remain a challenge. Many metropolitan areas still lack the tools, jurisdiction and funding that would allow them to embrace their role to a full extent. They do not yet play a primary role neither in the design of the national strategies and operational programmes, nor in the decision to use new instruments such as the Integrated Territorial Investments. This situation is further worsened by the fact that the Recovery and Resilience Facility, the main operative arm through which the Next Generation EU programme is promoting transformative economic, environmental and social recovery in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, is mostly managed at the central level in the member states, in partial contradiction to the fact that, across Europe, large urban and metropolitan areas have been the ones hit hardest by the pandemic.

Giancarlo Cotella (M.Arch., Ph.D.) is associate professor at Politecnico di Torino. His research mainly focuses on European Territorial Governance, in particular on the mutual influence occurring between European Spatial Planning and the spatial governance and planning systems characterising the different Member States. In recent years, he extended the scope of his comparative studies to extra-European countries as Japan, United States and selected Latin American countries. At the same time, he narrowed down the focus to specific aspects, as metropolitan governance, sustainable urbanization, just and green transition and the actual mechanisms adopted in the various countries to award development and land use rights. Giancarlo has taught and done research as a visiting scholar in numerous institutions in Europe and beyond, and took active part to the coordination of several international research projects, among which it is worth to mention ESPON 2.3.1 ESDP, ESPON 2.3.2 Governance, LisGo, ESPON FOCI, ESPON Smart-IST, ESPON TANGO, FP7 Mlesecure-2050, ESPON ReSSI, ESPON URRUC, ESPON COMPASS, ESPON SUPER, ESPON METRO, ERASMUS KA2 SPOT and LOTUS and the recently awarded Horizon Europe GreenFORCE. He published several contributions on various international scientific journals and edited books, and has recently been elected Secretary General of AESOP (Association of European Schools of Planning).

With the support of: