Global trends describe an increasingly urbanized planet. According to United Nations, almost 55% of the world population lives now in urban areas, and this percentage will rise to 60% in 2030, exceeding 5 billion people. Regarding these global phenomena of urbanization, the role of large cities with more than 10 million inhabitants is often highlighted. There are more than 30 at present and this number will continue to grow in the coming decades. However, these megacities account for less than 8% of the world population, while more than half of the world urban population lives in cities with less than 500,000 inhabitants, a percentage that will remain unchanged according to medium term forecasts. That is, most of the world urban population lives and will continue to live in small and medium-sized cities, which makes it necessary more studies on this reality. For that reason, Ciudades 22 will dedicate its monograph dossier to the question of the medium-sized cities.
Any study on medium-sized cities requires first the definition of the concept itself. Medium-sized, intermediate… The lexicon itself is problematic, since there are different adjectives to describe what is “between two extremes, in the centre of something or between two things”, or what is “neither too big nor too small”, according to the definitions of the Dictionary of the Spanish Language. On the one hand, the population has always been the key variable, but ranges can vary widely. For example, it is not the same a medium-sized city in Asia than in Europe, and it is usual to find different thresholds referring to the same area depending on who analyses it. On the other hand, this and other quantitative variables are increasingly combined with others of a qualitative nature, which usually refer to the role of these cities in each urban system and territorial context. Relationships with other cities, with their region and with their immediate environment are fundamental aspects to analyse. In this sense, contributions that address the issue of the medium-sized cities regarding the conceptual point of view will be welcome, including the study of the variables and characteristics that define them and the dependency that is established with each analysed area.
This reference to the territory and the urban system also connects with another interesting and wide-ranging debate: views about the role or contribution of medium-sized cities regarding the territorial “balance”. It is well known, for example, the proposal of ” métropoles de équilibre” that DATAR raised in France in the sixties as an alternative to the concentration of economic development in the region of Paris. More recently, the Territorial Agenda of the European Union 2020 highlights the crucial role that small and medium-sized cities can play at a territorial level, helping to reduce territorial polarization and regional imbalances and to boost economic development in their surrounding territories to which they provide numerous services. Moreover, in the context of the current dynamics of urban systems, recent studies analyse the trajectory of medium-sized cities and propose possible innovative strategies that guarantee their future development. Therefore, contributions that thoroughly analyse the territorial and systemic role of medium-sized cities in different temporal and geographical contexts may also be sent.
Another recurrent aspect related to medium-sized cities is quality of life. From the origins of modern urbanism, medium-sized cities are considered as the ideal urban space, even as the most sustainable cities. Faced with environmental, social, congestion problems and so forth that usually affect large cities, medium-sized cities would facilitate due to their scale a more balanced and sustainable development in both environmental and socio-economic terms. In fact, several medium-sized cities in different countries have become references in this regard, thanks to innovative strategies that have defined a certain profile. We can wonder if what we may define as an “urbanism of the medium-sized cities” exists and is able to provide useful and meaningful ideas to the current urban debate. Contributions that research in this possible urbanism are therefore encouraged, based not only on theory, but also on “best practices” that correspond to those medium-sized cities, in their different contexts, that are today a reference when facing the great territorial and urban challenges of the 21st century.
[The submission of papers for Ciudades 22, with a monograph dossier on the theme “Medium-Sized Cities: Concepts and Views, Territorial and Urban Profiles”, was closed in September 30, 2018. The publication is scheduled between April and June 2019.]
Miguel Fernández Maroto