Exploring the functional area approach in EU urban strategies






EU urban policy, sustainable urban development, FUAs, strategic planning


A vast literature has investigated processes of spatial reconfiguration, contributing to the emergence of a ‘new urban question’ that not only reframes traditional urban issues but also challenges our understanding of what cities are today. Be that as it may, the ‘European city model’ still remains current, particularly with regards to the institutional role of cities as they are increasingly considered to be relevant policy actors. This urban paradox gives new emphasis to the urban regional scale and urgently calls for the two dimensions to be connected both in terms of territorial dynamics and policy formulation. This paper addresses the topic by focusing on the functional area approach promoted by the European Union regional policy discourse, and by discussing how it shapes and legitimates new spatial configurations, with implications for urban analysis and policy approaches. The paper is based on the analysis of a database which gathers nearly 1000 strategies for Sustainable Urban Development funded by the EU between 2014-2020, and features a significant number of functional areas. The analysis reveals that the functional area approach does not only apply to metropolitan areas, big cities, or Functional Urban Areas, but can also be used for different types of territories, beyond metropolitan areas. It also underscores the need for more extensive research on what spatialities and territorial arrangements emerge from this process.

How to Cite

Fioretti, C., & Pertoldi, M. (2020). Exploring the functional area approach in EU urban strategies. Transactions of the Association of European Schools of Planning, 4(2), 146–162. https://doi.org/10.24306/TrAESOP.2020.02.006




Amin, Ash and Nigel Thrift (2002) Cities: Reimagining the urban. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Atkinson, Rob (2001) The emerging ‘Urban Agenda’ and the European Spatial Development Perspective: Towards an EU urban policy? European Planning Studies, 9 (3), pp.385-406.

Axinte, Lorena F., Abid Mehmood, Terry Marsden and Dirk Roep (2019) Regenerative city-regions: A new conceptual framework. Regional Studies, Regional Science, 6 (1), pp.117-129.

Balducci, Alessandro (2014) Why we need a European Urban Agenda (Informal meeting of Directors-General responsible for urban development, 17 February 2014), Bruxelles.

Balducci, Alessandro, Valeria Fedeli and Francesco Curci (eds) (2017) Post-metropolitan territories. Looking for a new urbanity. London-New York: Routledge.

Beel, David, Martin Jones and Ian Rees Jones (2016) Regulation, governance and agglomeration: Making links in city-region research. Regional Studies, Regional Science, 3 (1), pp.509-530.

Berry, B. Joe Lobley, Harold Goldstein and Peter G. Goheen (1968) Metropolitan area definition: A reevaluation of concept and statistical practice (Working paper 28). Washington, DC: Bureau of the Census.

Brenner, Neil (ed.) (2013) Implosions/explosions: Towards a study of planetary urbanization. Berlin: Jovis.

Castells, Manuel (1996) The Rise of the Network Society. Oxford: Blackwell.

Cheshire, Paul C. and Dennis G Hay (1989) Urban problems in Western Europe: An economic analysis. London: Unwin Hyman.

Coombes, Mike, J. Dixon, John Goddard, Stan Openshaw and Peter Taylor (1982) Functional regions for the population of Britain. In Herbert, David and Ronald Johnston (eds) Geography and the urban environment, Regions in Research and Applications, Volume 5. London: Wiley.

Coombes, Mike and Colin Wymer (2001) A new approach to identifying localities: Representing ‘places’ in Britain. In Madanipour Ali, Angela Hull and Patsy Healey (eds) The governance of place: Space and planning processes. Aldershot: Ashgate.

Coombes, Mike (2014) From city-region concept to boundaries for governance: The English case. Urban Studies, 51 (11), pp.2426-2443.

Davoudi, Simin (2008) Conceptions of the city-region: A critical review. Journal of Urban Design and Planning, Issue DP2, pp.51-60.

Dijkstra, Lewis and Hugo Poelman (2012) Cities in Europe. The new OECD-EC definition (Regional Focus series produced by the Directorate-General for Regional and Urban Policy, RF 01/2012).

Dijkstra, Lewis, Hugo Poelman and Paolo Veneri (2019) The EU-OECD definition of a FUA (OECD Regional Development Working Papers 11), Paris: OECD Publishing.

Drobne, Samo (2017) Functional regions and areas: Literature review according to application fields. Geodetski vestnik, 61 (1), pp.35-57.

ESPON (2018) SPIMA – Spatial dynamics and strategic planning in metropolitan areas. Final Report, ESPON programme, Luxembourg.

European Commission, Directorate-General for Regional Policy (2009) Promoting sustainable urban development in Europe. Achievements and opportunities. Brussels: European Communities.

European Commission and UN-HABITAT (2016) The state of European cities 2016. Cities leading the way to a better future. Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union.

Feřtrová, Marie (2018) Integrated territorial investments in the Czech Republic: A new tool for metropolitan areas. European Structural & Investment Funds Journal, 6 (1), pp.13-19.

Fioretti, Carlotta, Martina Pertoldi, Martina Busti and Sjoerdje van Heerden (eds) (2020) Handbook of sustainable urban development strategies. Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union.

Gonzales, Sara, John Tomaney and Neil Ward (2006) Faith in the city-region? Town and Country Planning, XX, pp.315-317.

González Medina, Moneyba and Valeria Fedeli (2015) Exploring European urban policy: Towards an EU-national urban agenda? Gestión y Análisis de Políticas Públicas, 14, pp.8-22.

Hall, Peter and Kathie Pain (2006) The polycentric metropolis learning from mega-city regions in Europe. London: Earthscan.

Harding, Alan (2007) Taking city regions seriously? Response to debate on ‘City-regions: New geographies of governance, democracy and social reproduction’. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 31 (2), pp.443-458.

Harrison, John (2007) From competitive regions to competitive city-regions: A new orthodoxy, but some old mistakes. Journal of Economic Geography, 7 (3), pp.311-332.

Harvey, David (2001) Spaces of capital: Towards a critical geography. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

Informal Council of Ministers responsible for Spatial Planning (1999) European Spatial Development Perspective Towards Balanced and Sustainable Development of the Territory of the European Union. Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union.

Informal Meeting of EU Ministers Responsible for Urban Matters (2016) Establishing the Urban Agenda for the EU ‘Pact of Amsterdam’. 30th May 2016, Amsterdam, The Netherlands.

Informal Meeting of Ministers of Housing and Urban Development (2010) Toledo Declaration. 22th June 2010 Toledo, Spain.

Informal Meeting of Ministers responsible for Spatial Planning and Territorial Development (2011) Territorial Agenda of the European Union 2020. Towards an Inclusive, Smart and Sustainable Europe of Diverse Regions. 19th May 2011 Gödöllő, Hungary.

Informal Meeting of Ministers responsible for Urban Development and Territorial Cohesion (2007) Territorial Agenda of the European Union. 24th – 25th May 2007, Leipzig, Germany.

Informal Meeting of Ministers responsible for Urban Policy (2007) Leipzig Charter on Sustainable European Cities. 24th – 25th May 2007, Leipzig, Germany.

Lavalle, Carlo et al. (2017) European territorial trends - Facts and prospects for cities and regions. Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union.

Kompil, Mert et al. (2015) European cities: territorial analysis of characteristics and trends -An application of the LUISA Modelling Platform (EU Reference Scenario 2013 -Updated Configuration 2014). JRC Technical Reports EUR 27709EN.

Le Galés, Patrick (2002) European cities: Social conflicts and governance. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Le Galès, Patrick (2018) Urban political economy beyond convergence: Robust but differentiated unequal European cities. In Andreotti, Alberta, David Benassi and Yuri Kazepov (eds) Western capitalism in transition: Global processes, local challenges. Manchester: Manchester Univesity Press.

Ministers responsible for spatial planning, territorial development and/or territorial cohesion (2020) Territorial Agenda 2030. Draft version, July 2020.

Ministry of the Regional Development and Public Administration, Romanian Presidency of the Council of the European Union (2019) Functional areas and the role of the FUA for territorial cohesion (Input paper).

Morgan, Kevin (2014) The rise of metropolitics: Urban governance in the age of the city-region. In Bradford, Neil and Allison Bramwell (eds) Governing urban economies: Innovation and inclusion in Canadian city-regions. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

OECD (2015) Governing the city. OECD Publishing, Paris.

Rodríguez-Pose, Andrés (2008) The rise of the “city-region” concept and its development policy implications. European Planning Studies, 16 (8), pp.1025-1046.

Sassen, Saskia (2001) Global cities and global city-regions: A comparison. In Scott, Allen J. (ed.) Global city-regions. Trends, theory, policy. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Scott, Allen J. (ed.) (2001) Global city-regions. Trends, theory, policy. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Secchi, Bernardo (2010) A new urban question. Territorio, 53 (2), pp.8-18.

Soja, Edward (2011) Regional urbanization and the end of the metropolis era. In Bridge, Gary and Sophie Watson (eds) The Blackwell new companion to the city. Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell.

Soja, Edward (2017) Accentuate the regional. In Haas, Tigran and Hans Westlund (eds) In the post-urban world: Emergent transformation of cities and regions in the innovative global economy. London: Routledge.

Soureli, Konstantina and Elise Youn (2009) Urban restructuring and the crisis: A symposium with Neil Brenner, John Friedmann, Margit Meyer, Allen J. Scott, and Edward W. Soja. Critical Planning, 16, pp.34-59.

van Der Zwet, Arno et al. (2017) Integrated territorial and urban strategies: How are ESIF adding value in 2014-2020? Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union.

Veneri, Paolo (2013) On city size distribution: Evidence from OECD FUAs (OECD Regional Development Working Papers 2013/27). Paris: OECD Publishing.

Tosics, Ivan (2014) FUAs around European cities (paper presented at the AESOP Annual Congress 2014: From Control to Co-evolution).

Ward, Kevin and Andrew E.G. Jonas (2004) Competitive city-regionalism as a politics of space: A critical reinterpretation of the new regionalism. Environment and Planning A, 36 (12), pp.2119-2139.