EURA Working Group on Urban Change and Regional Development at the Margins of Europe

Urban change and regional development at the margins of Europe: evaluating the effects of the EU’s policy

By the end of the eighties, after the 1988 reforms, regions and urban areas have become a preferential target of the EU Cohesion Policy. Through the implementation of Community Initiatives or other types of urban projects under the Structural Funds, for a large number of European cities this meant a unique opportunity to innovate urban policy and local governance. Particularly in the so-called ‘less developed regions’, targeted by considerable EU investments, area-based and neighbourhood regeneration initiatives were often accompained by large infrastructure projects, impacting on the whole urban area.
After around three decades of planning experiments, it is worth questioning to which extent Cohesion Policy have supported local development, especially where urban problems and regional weaknesses do coexist. In fact, while in many countries EU policy seems to have played a key role in addressing regional development and urban change, a number of regions in countries such as Portugal, Italy, Greece and in the East of Europe are still lagging behind to the more developed core of Europe.
With this questions on the backdrop, the EURA Working group aims to understand the long-lasting influence of the EU regional policy over the development processes in a selection of medium-sized cities belonging – today or at some point of its recent history – to the ‘less developed regions’. The six case studies – including Dublin (IE), Porto (PT), Malaga (ES), Palermo (IT), Thessaloniki (EL) and Gdansk (PL) – were identified to address a series of research questions, grouped into the following categories.

  • Have the EU projects provided any recognizable effects on the trajectories of the city’s development? Is there any urban area where physical regeneration or socioeconomic revitalization can be directly or indirectly related to the EU initiatives? Is there any policy-field where this influence is clearer?
  • Can we identify a clear influence of the EU planning initiatives on local govern- ance? How have local stakeholders been involved in the planning processes? Have public–private partnership been effective?
  • Have the EU projects brought new planning capacities to the local government? To which extent have the European approaches and methods to sustainable urban development been embedded within local policy-making?

Activities and outcomes
The Working group activities have included the organisation of scientific seminars (Madrid, March 2018), conference presentations (Tilburg, June 2018) and a special session organised within the City Futures IV Conference (Dublin, June 2019). The final results of the research are being published in a special issue of Urban Research & Practice. Papers already published in electronic version include:

  • Vinci, I. 2019. “How the EU regional policy can shape urban change in Southern Europe: learning from different planning processes in Palermo”. doi: 10.1080/17535069.2019.1672083
  • De Gregorio Hurtado, S. 2019. “Understanding the influence of EU urban policy in Spanish cities: the case of Málaga”. doi: 10.1080/17535069.2019.1690672
  • Athanassiou, E. 2020. “Transferring sustainability: imaginaries and processes in EU funded projects in Thessaloniki”. doi: 10.1080/17535069.2020.1783351
  • Igreja, J. & Conceição, P. 2021. “The influence of EU policy on local policy-making, governance and urban change. Evidence from Porto, Portugal”. doi: 10.1080/17535069.2021.1959632

The Working group consists of scholars from six European universities, including:

  • Ignazio Vinci, University of Palermo (Italy)-(Coordinator)
  • Paula Russell, University College Dublin (Ireland)
  • Isabel Breda-Vasquez and Paulo Conceição, University of Porto (Portugal)
  • Sonia De Gregorio Hurtado, Universidad Politécnica de Madrid (Spain)
  • Piotr Lorens, Gdansk University of Technology (Poland)
  • Evangelia Athanassiou, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, (Greece)