Small and medium-sized cities are felt less dynamic and vibrant than their big European sisters, but they are still important for millions of their residents, as they can combine urban facilities with direct access to rural areas, more affordable living conditions especially in relation to housing, and better quality of life for families and older people. 

But despite their obvious advantages, small and medium-sized cities face great challenges: depopulation, unemployment, lack of high-quality infrastructure, often a poor connectivity, and dependency on the big urban centers for a number of public services.   

The Spanish Presidency is an opportunity to complete the Territorial Agenda 2030 and reinforce complementarities with other EU policies” in order to address some of these challenges - says Teresa Ribera Rodríguez, Third Vice-President of the Government of Spain and Minister for the Ecological Transition and the Demographic Challenge.  

Juana López Pagan, General Director of Demographic Challenge, Joaquín Farinós Dasí, from the University of Valencia, and Erika Jaraiz Gulias, from the University of Santiago de Compostela describe how Territorial Agenda 2030 can become a “real, action-oriented tool capable of improving policies on the ground through concrete actions at all scales with effective good governance”.

Josep Maria Llop Torne, of the Universitat de Lleida underlines that “it is important to use the potential of populating cities that are on a human scale and structure their nodal function within both national and international networks”.
Those potentials include “good conditions for renewable energy sources, and energy communities can be a great solution to the issue of sustainability for citizens in these cities” as Ioannis Vardakastanis, President, and Florian Marin, member of the ECO Section of the EESC point out.  

“Small and medium-sized cities can be particularly attractive to people looking for a higher quality of life, especially in the context of persistent inflation” - David Burgalassi, Economist and Policy Analyst, OECD adds to the argument. 

Meanwhile, the Spanish Vice President, Teresa Ribera Rodríguez, acknowledges that “the gap between urban areas and territories with rural or less populated municipalities translates into a difference in opportunities depending on the place of residence”. 

Yet, Marcos Ros Sempere, Member of European Parliament, warns that polarisation between the rural and urban worlds becomes a determining factor in the application of the EU’s own principle of territorial cohesion. 

That is why Kieran McCarthy, Lord Mayor of Cork City and Member of the EU CoR, proposes the European Commission to integrate the topic of small urban areas into its rural proofing exercises.  

In the end, we must overcome rural-urban dichotomies and focus on interlinkages, as Guillaume Corradino, Director of Euromontana, pledges.  

Maybe what Europe needs is a new social and territorial contract, says the Mayor of Soria, Carlos Martínez Mínguez.

But it is important to make sure any new policy or intervention will not harm cohesion, underlines Michiel Rijsberman, Regional Minister of the Province of Flevoland and a CoR member. 

And if you are curious to know how all these policies work in real life and how members states and regions support small and medium-sized cities, reach out to the articles from David Kelly, Director at Southern Regional Assembly of Ireland; Paraskevi (Voula) Patoulidou, Deputy Regional Governor of Central Macedonia, and Stephanos Georgiades from the Cypriot Ministry of the Interior. 

This article appears in the Small cities - big expectations Issue of TerritoriALL

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This article appears in the Small cities - big expectations Issue of TerritoriALL