Small and medium-sized towns in their functional territorial context (TOWN)

Project details

Full project title: Small and medium-sized towns in their functional territorial context (TOWN)

Project duration: 2012-2015

Funder: ESPON Applied Research Project

Funding: €64,0000

Project Leader for SPE: Professor Rob Atkinson

Other UWE Bristol researcher: Dr Ian Smith

Research partners/collaborators:

  • Department of Architecture, Urbanism and Planning (ASRO) of the Catholic University Leuven, Belgium (Lead Partner)
  • Department of Geography, University Rovira i Virgili, Spain
  • Department of Planning and Architecture, UWE Bristol
  • Department of Geography, Charles University, Prague
  • Department of Planning, Université François-Rabelais de Tours, France

Visit the project website

Project summary

TOWN investigates the role of Small and Medium-sized towns (SMSTs) in their functional context and their potentialities for promoting territorial cohesion in Europe. It recognises SMSTs as crucial territorial factors in realising the EU2020 strategy, and more generally, as crucial elements of the European territory essential to strategies seeking to address the current economic crisis. The focus is on towns with a population between 5,000 and 50,000. Our research is particularly important as these ‘smaller places’ are rarely the explicit focus of attention. Thus, there is a ‘major deficit’ in our knowledge, in particular concerning the capacity to frame these crucial territorial elements in an EU-wide approach and the types of policies needed to support their development. The project fills in a major gap in both the scientific and policy literature.

In policy terms the TOWN project will be located within the territorial cohesion and placed-based approach developed in the EU over the last decade. The project aims to deliver innovative results that can help understand the roles, potentialities and the threats facing SMSTs across Europe, and that can support policy development in the field of territorial development, competitiveness and cohesion, providing new evidence-based development opportunities for the European territory.

Key outputs

  • Special Issue of Tijdschrift voor Economische en Sociale Geografie, Vol 108 (4), 2017 – Professor Rob Atkinson was Guest Editor along with Loris Servillo and Abdel Hamdouch.
  • Servillo, L, Atkinson, R and Hamdouch, A (2017)  ‘Small and medium-sized town in Europe: Conceptual and methodological approaches’  Tijdschrift voor Economische en Sociale Geografie, Vol 108 (4), pp 356-379.
  • Atkinson, R (2017) Policies for small and medium-sized towns: European, national and local approaches in Tijdschrift voor Economische en Sociale Geografie, Vol 108 (4), pp 472-487.
  • Atkinson, R (2019) The Small Towns conundrum: What do we do about them? Regional Statistics, Vol 9. No 2 2019, pp 1-17, DOI: 10.15196/RS090201.
  • Final report.
  • Scientific report.

Key findings

What kind of roles and functions do small and medium sized towns perform in the European territorial structure, e.g. as providers of employment, growth and services of general interest, that contribute to the Europe 2020 Strategy for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth?

What are the potentials and barriers for development of small and medium sized towns in different territorial contexts, and how can policy at different levels unleash the potentials and diminish the barriers in ways that strengthen their functional character?

What types of governance and cooperation arrangements exist at various levels aiming to support the development of small and medium-sized towns and their territorial context, and how can policy further support these types of arrangements in order to strengthen their contribution to a more balanced territorial development of the European regions?

Following on from the above:

  • What are the policy implications of the project findings?
  • How can public actions support SMSTs?
  • What is the role of EU policy in enhancing the role and functions of SMSTs within the framework of the territorial cohesion strategy?
  • What type of indications can the project provide to enhance the functioning of multilevel governance processes with reference to SMSTs?

Project contact

For further information on the project, please contact Professor Rob Atkinson (

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