Back in Europe – first reflections on the urban side to the declining continent debate

When you go back home after a long stay abroad, you just can’t help comparing everything. Weather, food, language and your immediate surrounding: houses, buildings, pavements, squares, parks, roads. When I set foot back in Europe after almost half a year on another continent, it was in Lisbon, then London, and a few Italian cities. These cities are much older and much smaller than Buenos Aires or Rio (where I was until now). They are much older: that means that they are both much more steeped in history and also inhabited by rather older people. It reminded me of the declining Europe debate and I would like to throw some first ideas to start refocusing this blog on urban development in Europe.

Two European cities stand out at global scale

After Latin America, Europe feels like a web of many quaint little towns knitted together throughout a very small sub-continent. No offense to European cities, but other continents do have BIG exuberant cities. This is the urban aspect of the European decline debate. Europe only has a couple of global metropolises: London and Paris (to a lesser extent).

position of world cities in europe
This map shows the importance of cities in relation to their capacity to attract international businesses. London clearly stands out, Paris follows.

In terms of population, you would also find that only London and Paris can compete with the cities I have studied in Latin America (Buenos Aires and Rio de Janeiro).

Medium-sized cities – more manageable cities? 

Nevertheless, Europe is still the most urbanised continent. It has smaller cities than other continents, but we could argue that they are more manageable and above all more livable. The map below shows the main European urban nodes or systems, that are home to most services (transport, health, education…).

map urban nodes ESPON

The up side of having medium sized cities (I mean at global scale so roughly between 200 000 and 2 million inhabitants) is that they be more manageable.

The down side or risk is the ‘shrinking cities’ phenomenon – which I shall explore later!


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