Towards metropolitan collaboration in urban areas

Ivan Tosics

By Ivan Tosics, on October 10th, 2019

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After attending the Urban Futures Global Conference (UFGC) and the European Metropolitan Authorities (EMA) meeting, Iván Tosics reports cooperation at metropolitan level is key for the development of urban areas.

Residents inside and outside the city are not generally interested in where the city border lies and how various services are organised. However, despite its “invisibility”, the issue of metropolitan cooperation has a profound impact on the daily lives of people: where new housing is being built, where international investors develop offices, commercial facilities and workplaces and what public transport access options people have (and their costs). Needless to say, the territorial distribution of housing and workplaces largely determines the need for mobility and with that the liveability or congestion of the whole functional urban area.

In Europe, there are many good examples of cooperation between a city and its agglomeration. Almost every major city has a transport association with its surrounding area.

I recently participated in two very interesting meetings on the subject. During the Urban Futures Global Conference in Oslo (NO) in May the topic of metropolitan areas got special attention. The other meeting was the European Metropolitan Authorities Forum, which was organised in June in Lyon alongside the Social Housing Festival. In these meetings I came across three good examples of planning cooperation, as well as four innovative cases of institutional solutions for metropolitan areas – which are the two main solutions to the metropolitan problem (further detailed in Gerőházi-Tosics, 2018).

Planning coordination across metropolitan areas

The metropolitan area of Amsterdam (NL) covers 2.5 million people in two provinces, across 32 municipalities. In this fast growing urban area there is a need for 250 000 new dwellings which can only be achieved through metropolitan cooperation. In the metropolitan plan, Almere (NL) is designated to become one of the three growth poles, to accommodate 60 000 new dwellings and grow from 210 000 towards 350 000 inhabitants. Franc Weerwind, the mayor of Almere emphasised that the Almere 2.0 plan contributes to the development of the whole metropolitan area while ensuring a balanced development.

The Oslo urban area is also quickly growing. Oslo has a left-wing coalition, while the surrounding Akershus region is right-wing. Even so, there is a long tradition of cooperation. As Øyvind Såtvedt Managing Director of Oslo Region Alliance explained, the bottom-up, voluntary cooperation between 83 municipalities in five counties exists since 2004 covering 2.4 million people. Oslo and Akershus share the revenues from the toll ring fees. There is a good dialogue to increase affordable housing, to turn the city centre into car-free zone, and even to achieve zero growth in private car use. The key for the cooperation is the 2015 regional plan for transport and land use, suggesting what to build where, including restrictions, but also expanding urban areas. It is, however, only a soft plan because municipalities have the land use rights and decide the implementation of plans. The regional body has a missionary role, to convince localities about the advantages of cooperation.

Warsaw (PL) was for long a typical example of non-cooperation in post-socialist cities, with surrounding municipalities having no trust in the 1.7 million strong city. Although in 2008 a single ticketing system was introduced, further steps had to be taken to build up cooperation with the seven surrounding Warsaw. As Michał Olszewski, Deputy Mayor of Warsaw explained, the 2014-2020 Cohesion Policy, especially the Integrated Territorial Instrument (ITI) regulation of Poland brought important changes establishing the Warsaw Functional Area with 40 municipalities. For a city with EUR 4 billion budget, the ITI funding of 167 million for seven years is not a big deal, but it planted the seed of cooperation. Projects concentrated on low emission transport issues, such as last mile transport and a biking network, and were selected on the basis of cooperation between municipalities. As a result Warsaw is considered now as a partner, and cooperation as a common benefit. Neighbouring municipalities are even considering joining the Warsaw district heating system. The six years of cooperation within the ITI scheme changed the cooperation climate totally. The next challenge is to expand cooperation from 40 to 70 settlements, extending beyond common distribution of money towards common revision of development goals.

Institutional solutions for metropolitan areas

Grand Lyon (FR) has been established by national law in 1969. As Michel Lefaou, vice president of Lyon Métropole (2015) explained, the cooperation across 59 municipalities with 1.4 million residents has been working for 50 years. Besides coordinating economic development, it is also important to keep some areas from development to preserve the landscape. Cooperation drives solidarity too: social housing has been managed across the metropolitan area. Social development and solidarity is key at a metropolitan level, doing a lot to increase affordable housing. There are efforts to change deprived working class areas and to demolish some tower blocks, to build new facilities and to improve access with new transport connections to the city centre. Grand Lyon is an accelerated implementer of the French Housing First programme, offering housing to those who are on the street without any housing.

Barcelona Metropolitan Area (ES) covers 36 settlements with 3.2 million people. The BMA is strong in planning and in services of metropolitan interest such as water, waste management, sustainable mobility and public transport. Maria Teresa Aymerich, Vice-president for International Relations and Cooperation emphasised the solidarity aspects: the smaller settlements and the poorest people get help from BMA. New housing units are being built, energy efficience renovation is being carried out. The topics of public transport and sustainability are discussed and decided at a metropolitan level. The establishment of the Metropolitan Housing Observatory ensures better information background for coordinated housing policy across the metro area.

In the case of Greater Manchester (UK) the metropolitan institution has been established in 2009 as a Combined Authority. A further step to strengthen metropolitan cooperation was the introduction of direct election of the metropolitan mayor. Andy Burnham, Mayor of Greater Manchester gives high priority to fighting growing economic inequalities. Homeless shelters are provided to end sleeping rough, and now they edge further towards Housing First, as a much more coherent solution. Quality of work is another goal: a good employment charter has been introduced to fight zero hour contracts, which give no security to employees at all, and working conditions will be taken into account when public procurements are decided. Young people are considered for metropolitan social policy, helping them onto the housing ladder, and covering the costs of attending university (bus opportunity pass).

Porto Metropolitan Council (PT) includes 17 cities with 2.7 million people. Eduardo Rodrigues, President emphasised the importance of transport issues, to achieve better links between urban and rural areas, linked to the employment programme. The single price pass has been introduced for the whole metropolitan area: people in peripheral locations, who used to pay EUR 80-120 per month, are paying EUR 40 now. As a result the use of public transport increased – new opportunities emerged to reach job opportunities and access to transport is now granted for everyone (also the elderly people can become part of the society again).

The political message : giving a bigger role to metropolitan cooperation in delivering EU policies

Metropolitan cooperation is important as the metropolitan area is the correct spatial level to cooperate with the people and deliver positive investments financed by the EU. More devolution of power to the metropolitan level is needed by the EU institutions, to enable bottom-up changes with people instead of dictating changes from above.

In order to enhance the capacities of metropolitan areas the importance of land-use planning and public transport policies (equalisation of prices) and investments were mentioned.

In the closing speech at the UFGC metropolitan day Anna Lisa Boni, Secretary General mentioned the efforts of Eurocities to push the metropolitan topic as a transversal issue in the work of the Urban Agenda partnerships.

What is needed? Good data on functional urban area level, relevant planning instruments, more support for investments, more distribution of knowledge and good practices, better links between urban and territorial issues on member state and EU level!

Cohesion Policy and the Integrated Territorial Investment (ITI) has to be enhanced for metropolitan cooperation. In the 2021-2027 Cohesion Policy period, the new territorial Thematic Priority, Thematic Objective 5 should have a metropolitan vision too.

Find more articles by Ivan Tosics on the URBACT Website

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