A Loosing Combination for Romanian Cities? Shrinking Population and Urban Sprawl

By Alina Andreea Băileşteanu, on February 27th, 2013

> Read Alina Andreea Băileşteanu's articles

Romanian cities, in less than 20 years, as many European cities, had to cope with two major challenges: industrial restructuring after 1990 and the economic crisis which started in 2008.

Additionally, Romanian cities had to adapt to new economic approaches, after more than 40 years with  a centralized system during the communist period. With a limited number of economic activities, small and medium towns were the most affected. Their inability to overcome such problems led to further economic and social issues.

Skyline view of Iasi, Photo by: Coco_ro, Creative Commons

Shrinking Cities

One of the most difficult challenge that Romanian towns and cities have to overcome is related to demography. As some other Central and Eastern European cities, such as Bytom and Sosnowiec in Poland, Romanian cities are struggling with population decline, even in large cities.

For example, Bucharest (Romania’s most important economic centre) lost more than 200,000 inhabitants during the last 10 years. This led to important economic problems and a weakening of the labour force.  The highly skilled  and young population is leaving to other cities, many of them abroad.

Many social problems are also the result of this phenomenon – parental absenteeism when parents  leave their children behind to work abroad leads in turn to increased vulnerability of the children, school drop off and increased juvenile crime.

Urban Sprawl

In the last 20 years the urban territory strongly increased while population decreased. Urban land represented 226,777 hectares in 1993 and went up to 435, 050 hectares in 2011. Pressure coming from the real estate sector paired with a poor control of urbanization, putting  local public administration under more strain since it has to increase infrastructures for transport and utilities. It also increased costs for the population, which faced higher fuel consumption and larger distances to travel. Urban sprawl also has a negative impact on the environment. It affects areas with natural potential, limits agricultural land, and generates social problems such as isolation. The towns and cities lose their characteristics : the corner shop is replaced by hypermarkets, the commercial street is replaced by malls, while public spaces are planned for cars, not for people

Urban governance is characterized by a lack of cooperation between local authorities, urban-urban or urban-rural, which allows the development of the urban sprawl.

Increased Social Segregation

The new developments are characterized by the emergence of more and more gated communities and thus  to less mixity and more social segregation.  New neighbourhoods are built only for wealthy people. On the other hand, lack of interventions in deprived neighbourhoods increased the disparities inside the cities and creates deprived communities.

The functionning of the housing market also represents a difficult challenge for urban development. Young people experience difficulties to access to housing because prices are high and the stock is insufficient. More than 85% of the housing stock was built before the Romanian Revolution in 1989. It needs that energy efficiency is very low.

Transportation: Reliance on Private Cars

In what concerns mobility and transports, there is a poor cooperation between urban planning and transport departments at local level. Cities transport network were improved but this was not extended to the new neighbourhoods, thus forcing people to use their personal cars. Use of alternative means of transportation is not encouraged and a cycling infrastructure is virtually inexistent.

romania mobility

Source: World Bank Report: Romanian competitive cities 2012

Economic Polarization of the Country

Economic polarization of Bucharest brings large disparities throughout the Romanian territory. More than 50% of foreign investments are located here. This important difference between Bucharest and rest of the cities cause an unbalanced territory development of Romania and a low urbanization in surrounding area of Capital.

Romania 3

Source: World Bank Report: Romanian competitive cities 2012

Low Architectural Quality

In the last 20 years the big real estate pressure together with the low control of public authorities affect the architectural quality of building. In this regard, in Romanian cities, public intervention in the public space or housing rehabilitation is primarily conditioned by economic factors, and only secondarily by the quality of the intervention.

Romania 4

Source: INCD URBAN-INCERC: Black Sea coastal area study

Any Solutions?

Some solutions to these challenges have been pointed out in European long-term objectives for the  next programming period of the Cohesion policy.

These are:

  • To foster polycentric development through strong cooperation between cities, between city core and surrounding localities. Defining the urban functional areas is the main issue.
  • To delevelop urban regeneration as a tool for a sustainable urban development in the city centres, in the industrial sites, in military sites and in urban regeneration of housing blocks.
  • To support urban mobility by connecting the city centres and surrounding localities by public transport, by creating cycling routes in order to limit the use of personal vehicles, by developing pedestrian routes in the cities centres, inter-modal transport, parking systems, etc.

URBACT networks represent an important opportunity for Romanian cities.  Thirty Romanian cities ( as you can see on URBACT’s interactive map) were or are partners of an URBACT project in the period 2007-2013. It was a great framework for them to identify concrete solutions to overcome these challenges. Exchange of experiences and good practices helps Romanian cities to improve policy making and to develop actions in line with integrated sustainable urban development.


By Alina Andreea Băileşteanu

Coordinator of the Romanian National Dissemination Point
Head of Marketing Department, INCD URBAN-INCERC





One Response to “A Loosing Combination for Romanian Cities? Shrinking Population and Urban Sprawl”

  1. Segolene Pruvot Segolene Pruvot says:

    This project from the OECD, which collaborated to the URBACT workstream on Jobs and Employment also gives interesting information on how to tackle demographic change – http://www.oecd.org/cfe/leed/demographicchange.htm. When one speaks about integrated urban development solutions….

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