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Urban and economic transformation of metropolitan areas

Rudolfs Cimdins

Metropolitan areas across Europe face visible changes in the productive activities of city regions and their role in industrial development. As the coordinating organisation of metropolitan cooperation and planning initiatives in the Riga region, the Riga Planning Region participates in the ESPON targeted analysis Metropolitan Industrial Spatial Strategies & Economic Sprawl (MISTA), focusing on the productive sector's main trends and future perspectives.

During the past two decades, as a result of the expansion of urban territories, great changes in spatial structures have taken place in Riga - the capital of Latvia- as well as in the surrounding areas forming Riga's functional region. Riga is home to nearly one half of the country's residents, and, together with the metropolitan area (about 1.1 million inhabitants), is an area with a huge population and level of economic cooperation (it represents two thirds of Latvia's overall socioeconomic activity - GDP, industry, investments, education and science). A long with the spatial changes in the Riga metropolis, the role of urban-suburban economic and social relationships has also changed.

"Riga, Together with the metropolitan area is an area with a huge population and level of economic cooperation"

The most characteristic socioeconomic structuration processes in the Riga metropolitan area are associated with

 a relative increase in the population, particularly the working-age population,

 migration from the capital Riga to the suburbs, and

everyday commuting within the metropolis.

The above mentioned processes determine changes in the basic population and lead to the transformation of economic activities and the spatial distribution of metropolitan-scale businesses.

An evaluation of these processes, the identification of key development issues and the need for an adequate planning process for the metropolitan region were the main conditions that activated wider functional-scale planning initiatives in the Riga region.

At the beginning of 2018, the Riga Planning Region started to develop a joint Action Plan for the Development of the Riga Metropolitan Area,. The idea was to achieve the coherent development and coordination of ongoing processes by using an integrated approach and complex solutions to coordinate the interests of the state, Riga city, the surrounding local governments and the inhabitants.

One of the main goals of the metropolitan plan is to serve as a strategy for settlement structure, mobility, services and job location in the functional space of Riga. Alongside the development of the Riga metropolitan area plan, the Riga Planning Region started to search for appropriate functional urban areas and regions in Europe to collaborate with regarding economic development aspects.

Participation in the ESPON Targeted Analysis MISTA, together with other cities and regions across Europe (Vienna, Oslo, Berlin, Warsaw, Turin and Stuttgart), has helped the Riga Planning Region to recognise urban and economic transformation trends of city regions, as well as identify the state of the Riga metropolitan area development processes.

"One of the main goals of the metropolitan plan is to serve as a strategy for settlement structure, mobility, services and job location in the functional space of Riga"

When identifying main policy issues and key questions to be addressed within the MISTA process, the Riga region focuses on activities to identify criteria for defining industrial and new development territories (existing and potential ones) in the metropolitan area, taking into consideration new development trends, IT development, global tendencies and local habits, significant future projects (e.g. RailBaltica) and the changing spatial structure. Taking into account metropolitan-scale spatial transformation processes, it is crucial to identify existing and potential territories for industry and other 'space-consuming' sectors (e.g. waste management, the transport sector, energy, leisure opportunities) in the metropolitan area.

Identification of specialisation sectors of the region and the spatial distribution of different businesses is key to the implementation of the abovementioned Riga metropolitan area plan. In the case of the Riga region, the main point of interest is the interaction of the metropolitan area?s core territory (50 km radius, 30 minute accessibility) with regional centres and smaller satellite cities.

When the Riga metropolitan area plan is approved by the Riga Planning Region Development Council and the MISTA process provides useful findings regarding the changing role of industry on a spatial scale and explains the main trends in productive activities of city regions,

 it will be important to think about the spatial consequences of urban sprawl, the distribution of economic activities and the readiness of metropolitan areas for potential future jobs.

This article appears in the A regional geography of COVID-19 Issue of TerritoriALL

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This article appears in the A regional geography of COVID-19 Issue of TerritoriALL