12. June 2012
Cities in Europe
Five capital cities: growing together into a smart region
The quintet of the five Central European capitals – Bratislava, Budapest, Ljubljana, Prague and Vienna – boasts a high standard of living. But only Vienna and Prague surpass the European average in an overall evaluation.
This was the main conclusion drawn from an EU-funded project investigating the “metropolisation and polycentric development in Central Europe”, abbreviated as POLYCE. Research funding was provided by the EU network ESPON, whose mission is to promote territorial development in Europe. The aim of the project was to analyse the development of the five capital cities in Central Europe, both from a competitive and cooperative perspective, and to compare their development to that of other European cities. The research findings were presented at a press conference held after an expert meeting at the Vienna University of Technology, which had acted as a lead partner in the POLYCE project. The five capitals had sent delegates to Vienna. The City of Vienna was represented at this press conference by the chairman of the City Council Committee on Urban Planning and member of the Green Party, Rüdiger Maresch.
Research findingsIn the survey the five capital cities achieved good results regarding the living conditions offered by them. But this is in fact the only criterion where all the five cities exceed the average of the 50 European cities compared. As far as the cities’ overall performance is concerned, only Vienna and Prague are well above the European average. Economic development is the area in which the five capitals score the best results. The assessment also shows that the very high quality of living is another major strength of these cities. However, their demographic profiles (including education and minorities) were found to be among their main weaknesses. In the research area “ethnic diversity and education” only Bratislava and Ljubljana got remarkably good results. Vienna proved to be a shining example particularly in environmental issues. According to the authors of the study, the Vienna conurbation offered important advantages compared to its Central European partner cities. Apart from environmental protection, exemplary mobility solutions were another asset of Vienna.
Developing new strategiesThe existing network of capital cities in Central Europe offers outstanding opportunities for a “smart” development of the cities into a competitive common region, concluded the authors of the study. But due to their geographical situation and historical background, all five capital cities were trying to establish themselves as a hub vis-à-vis their neighbouring regions. To achieve this goal, it was necessary to strengthen territorial cooperation and develop new strategies. Moreover, cooperation among the five cities had to be intensified. It was also necessary to strike a balance between competitive thinking and willingness to cooperate. The study authors also recommended the five capitals cities to improve their economic, social and ecological standards, while actively involving their responsible citizens. Public administration fulfilled an important steering function in this context. The following priorities were defined for the future: knowledge-based economy, modern traffic and transport management (more independence from cars, expanding public transport networks), information exchange, migration, language skills and curbing the urban exodus. All these activities should take into account the new EU Danube region strategy.
Discussions”Even if today competition among business locations is advocated very strongly, we have to be aware of the fact that we will not be able to cope with the present economic crisis individually and completely independently” stated Rüdiger Maresch. Similar conclusions were drawn at the subsequent discussion: “We have to find out what we, the Central European cities, can do together. Vladimir Schmalz, chairman of the Urban Development Committee of Prague, said that in view of the current economic situation, it was difficult to reach a compromise between competition and cooperation – but this remained a vital task. Miran Gajsek, head of the Department for Land-Use Planning in Ljubljana, stressed the role that infrastructure played in strengthening cohesion among the cities of Central Europe. He criticised that his trip to Vienna had taken seven hours, and that this was longer than in the past. Michal Muransky, chairman of the Land-Use Planning Committee of Bratislava, highlighted the well-developed cooperation in spatial planning between Vienna and Bratislava as a positive example. Rudolf Giffinger, professor at the Vienna University of Technology and POLYCE project coordinator, summed up that there were some good basic approaches to cooperation among the cities. As far as ideas for the consistent further development of this dialogue were concerned, there were, however, “shortcomings and a need for action”.
Institut für Raumplanung in Wien