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Urban Networks in Europe

Vectors of Territorial Integration

European integration furnishes an excellent opportunity to observe the process of territorial integration. Urban networks are powerful vectors of integration. Concentrating as they do economic activity, information, power, culture, and people in both quantitative and qualitative ways, cities are first and foremost nodal points of exchange and complex interconnection.

Today new forms of territorial organisation and integration are emerging as a result of spectacular growth in mobility, rapidly changing transportation networks and the spread of communication and information technologies. This dynamic phenomenon nevertheless does not produce the same effects in the different areas of the European territory. At the core of the debate over regional planning, territorial integration is examined in terms of equity, balance, and sustainability.

Networks of European territorial integration

© Mention obligatoire : conception : Nadine Cattan. Réalisation : Guillaume Lesecq. CNRS


Two classic models of city networks
European territorial integration has often been reduced to two conventional models: the center-periphery model and the hierarchical model of urban networks. The European space is thereby depicted in one of these two ways: either in terms of strong center to which peripheral territories manage to tie themselves to a greater or lesser degrees, or of major metropolises in whose shadow secondary cities lie hidden.

A form of organisation in reality more complex
Limiting territorial integration to these two schema means that integration will be fragile and limited. But as we have shown1, the mode of organisation of European territory by networks of cities is in reality much more diversified. Two other models of territorial integration can be added to those just cited: specialised urban networks, and “capital” city networks. Territorial integration is supported by specialised networks of cities as defined by common patterns of either material or non-material production. Trade and exchange are based on complementarity and cooperation, as can be observed in scientific or financial networks, or for example in the aeronautics industry. Another way territorial integration takes place is through networks of cities that are either economic or political capitals. Intensified exchange between this type of city is currently the most dynamic force for territorial integration operating across the whole area of the European Union.
Freed from the constraints of distance, urban hierarchies, and political boundaries, these two forms of integration tend to emphasise the interrelations among cities in a network, and in this way they are the vectors of a dynamic polycentric organisation of the European space.
Political decision-makers must understand that if a balanced and sustainable integration of the European territory is to be achieved, it will be through spatial planning that takes more and more account of networks themselves and less and less of urban poles.


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Nadine Cattan
Unité "Géographie-cités"
CNRS-Universités Paris I et VII
ENS Lettres
E-mail: nadine.cattan@parisgeo.cnrs.fr

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