Peripheral Cities in the European Community: Challenges, Strategies and Prospects

Published date01 January 1992
Date01 January 1992
Subject MatterArticles
Peripheral Cities in the European Community:
Challenges, Strategies and Prospects
Jon Dawson
Centre for Urban Studies, University of Liverpool
Cities which are located in the peripheral regions of the European Community
face formidable challenges as the Single European Market evolves and competing
market economies develop in Eastern Europe. The economic performance of
peripheral cities is comparatively weak and, very often, constrained by
underdeveloped economic structures, a dependence on relatively small regional
and local markets and the absence of efficient communication links to the
European ’core’ and other peripheral urban centres. Peripheral cities also suffer
from an array of, often severe, social dilemmas.
Although this article defines peripherality in economic rather than
geographical terms, it will become clear that there is, in the European context, a
close correlation between location and economic performance. Hence, it will be
more difficult for cities located on the periphery of Europe to secure economic
dynamism and success than for those reaping the economic benefits of European
centrality. But this does not mean that peripheral cities are destined for failure or
that cities in the European core will inevitably succeed. Peripheral cities are
pursuing a variety of strategies to overcome the constraints of peripherality and
boost their economic potential. They are upgrading and developing their
transport and telecommunication infrastructures, enhancing their skills base,
encouraging firms to modernise their production techniques and exploiting their
urban quality of life to attract and retain economic activity.
This article will explore how different cities are responding to the challenges
of economic peripherality and will assess their prospects in an increasingly
competitive European market-place. The concept of peripherality adopted in this
article is set out in a brief discussion of the notion of three identifiable economic
areas - ’an old core, new core and periphery’ - within the European Community.
The article then identifies the features and problems characteristic of peripheral
cities and examines how effectively strategic responses in three cities - Seville,

Oporto and Dublin - are helping to overcome the disadvantages of peripherality.
Drawing on the experience of these three cities, the paper appraises the prospects
of cities located in Europe’s economic periphery.
The European Spatial Economic Context
The core-periphery model has traditionally provided the conceptual framework to
describe geographical unevenness in spatial patterns of economic development
(Wallace, 1990; Clout et al, 1989: Meny and Wright, 1985). It has been used to
describe and explain spatial economic differences within Europe, within nation
states, within regions and between the first and third worlds. The core-periphery
analysis implicitly synthesises many of the factors which shape the location of
economic activity. These include distance and accessibility to and from markets
and factors of production, diffusion of innovation and agglomeration - the
tendency for development to become self-perpetuating where economic activity is
already concentrated.
In the European context, the core-periphery model holds that a geographic,
functional and decision-making core acts as a magnet to economic activity
attracting and retaining capital and labour, thereby reinforcing differences
between the core and the periphery. In its contemporary configuration, the core
conforms to the area most attractive to the dominant international institutions,
finance capital and modem industry.
Various descriptions of the extent of Europe’s core and periphery have
emerged in the last two decades (for example, King, 1982; Seers, 1979) and more
complex spatial typologies (for example, Holland,1976) have been developed.
However, the European spatial economy is a dynamic and not a static entity and
definitions of spatial economic categories and their boundaries will change over
time. Parkinson et al (forthcoming, 1992) have identified three broad economic
areas within the contemporary European Community. first, there is an old core
comprising the traditional industrial regions of northern Europe and the cities
within them (in the United Kingdom, northern Germany, northern France and the
Benelux countries), which experienced painful economic adjustment in the late
1970s and early 1980s, especially in heavy manufacturing, extractive and
transport industries. However, some old core cities successfully restructured their
older economic sectors - albeit employing a much smaller workforce - and
diversified into new consumer and producer oriented service industries and so
emerged from a period of restructuring in better shape than others which did not.
Second, there is a new core which consists of the traditionally more lightly
industrialised Alpine, Mediterranean and Southern German regions. These were
the fastest-expanding regions in the 1980s European economy. They became a
base for those modem high technology industries and producer services which
were attracted by good communication infrastructures, cleaner environments,
quality leisure resources and accessibility to technical and research institutions
and skilled labour.
Third, the most economically peripheral area of ~the Community includes
Greece, southern Italy, southern and western Spain, Portugal and Ireland. The.
cities in this area included Athens, Thessalonika, Bari, Naples, Palermo, Seville,

Lisbon, Oporto and Dublin. Under the twin burdens of geographic peripherality
and underdeveloped economies, these cities and their regions have made
relatively slower economic progress in recent decades (Commission for the
European Communities, 1991). However, peripheral cities, which were less
dependent economically on heavy manufacturing, did not suffer as acutely as
many in the old core from global economic restructuring.
Some cities, of course, do not fit neatly into these broad categories which
reflects, in part, specific historical development paths and differences in the
potential of cities to engage with recent economic change. However, although
this scheme is inevitably crude, it is clear that location continues to be a major
contributing factor to the economic potential of European cities. Nevertheless,
policy actors can manipulate many factors which shape urban economic success.
In other words, cities are not simply the passive ’victims’ or ’beneficiaries’ of
economic forces. Decisions taken within and for cities can affect the way in
which these forces work.
Key Characteristics and Problems of Peripheral Cities
The social, economic and physical profiles of peripheral cities in Europe and the
problems they face are very different from those of many cities in the old or new
core. Their strategic transportation and telecommunications infrastructure are
often inadequate and their economies are often over dependent on technologically
underdeveloped industries. Hence, economically, their regions lag behind those
of the European core. In addition, late and rapid urbanisation has led to a series
of urban problems - inadequate housing, overstretched social services and
education facilities, overloaded transport systems, insufficient planning and an
outmoded physical infrastructure.
The economic profiles of peripheral cities and regions display productivity
rates, levels of investment, application of new technologies and income per capita
below EC...

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