Magnet cities

Magnet cities

At present, cities have a growing importance for the economy and development, in Europe 71% of the population lives in metropolitan areas, this hegemony looks likely to be consolidated as predictions indicate that an increasing number of people will move to these areas. However, the hegemony of the urban cannot only be measured in quantitative terms, for years now sociology has detected that the urban-rural dichotomy has been becoming progressively blurred to the extent that the rural way of life is being relegated to the realm of anecdote and folklore, and in many cases it is sustained thanks to the creation of leisure and relaxation spaces for urban dwellers. The city can be considered to be one of the great victors of modernity.

However, the city is a generic reality with a wide diversity of variants and greater or lesser capacity to attract people, dynamism and activities…so, what are its poles of attraction around which its magnetic field revolves? What are the factors that make cities magnets? A study conducted by the World Bank based on Functional Urban Areas (FUAs) in Romania (the economy in the EU with the most growth in recent years) carried out analysis in order to find out what are the poles of attraction that can have an impact in terms of increasing dynamism.

  • City Size/FUA

Large cities have a series of benefits in many areas of activity and in terms of creating opportunities, this makes them a pole of attraction that feeds back into itself. In this regard, it is possible to see how the hierarchy of cities within countries has barely varied over history, for example, in 1790 New York was the largest city in the United States with 33,000 inhabitants, in 2010 the city maintains its hegemony and has 8 million inhabitants.

  • Proximity to density. 

FUAs close to large cities tend to initially lose the game of economic growth (although the suburbs and peri-urban areas flourish), as skilled people emigrate to the biggest city in search of the best opportunities. As the “urban cup” of the largest city fills (that is to say, as costs increase in the biggest city), benefits begin to spill into the smallest cities close to them, thus, many municipalities can take advantage of these spillover effects and get ahead of their competitors.

  • Proximity to markets. 

Proximity to markets is a very significant element, the smallest cities but which are strategically located, have better ratios of growth and people than those which are furthest away.

  • Universities.

In general, cities with universities have also been the most successful in attracting people. Universities offer a unique benefit to the cities that they are located in as they create a continuous and constant supply of young people who are well-educated.

If the city is also able to provide job opportunities for the people who study at its universities, success is guaranteed. Many of the students that graduate from universities decide to stay in the city if suitable job opportunities are available. For a city, having a flow of young and skilled people is critical, particularly in an environment of demographic decline. This information, bearing in mind the demographic projections of the Basque Country needs to be assessed in detail.

  • Structure/Economic fabric. 

Cities with a higher participation in high added value sectors perform better than cities with a low proportion in these sectors. As cities grow, so too does the cost of living, and without economic sectors with high salaries, the growth of the city is blocked. In general, cities with a greater participation in sectors with high added value, obtain better results than those with a manufacturing base.

  • The influence of the private sector

The influence of the private sector is another element that attracts people and that generates dynamism. In a certain sense, that may seem obvious but there is no harm in reminding the municipalities / regions that base their activity on the public sector (we can all think of one).

  • Quality of life.

Many people place a central importance on the quality of life, in particular the most highly skilled who have greater mobility and who can choose between different cities. Cities with an active civil society, green spaces, sports facilities, leisure spaces, good connections, a good nightlife, leisure opportunities, are a greater pole of attraction than the rest. Another key element is the fact that for most people, quality of life means living alongside people with similar ideas. Therefore, skilled people generally move to places with a large critical mass of other skilled people.

These are the 7 vectors that sustain the (mainly economic) magnetism of a city, surely every reader feels that one is missing or that one should be qualified, for example, I would add one which can be considered transversal but which I believe is going to have an increasing influence on the development of cities; the level of internationalization of the city. Its ability to participate in international networks (which are profitable), and connect its citizens with other international spaces of knowledge, work and exchange. I believe that in the economy of globalised knowledge this element may be crucial when it comes to driving development.

The analysis of magnet cities seems interesting because it offers a series of key elements when it comes to approaching the aspects that drive cities. For example, one element that it is easier to work on for intermediate cities is quality of life, or better connections with universities…in contrast to the benefits offered by major cities. Often, from multiple municipalities, we see the repetition of formulas and ideas that try to drive forward the city, thus, broadening the spectrum of analysis elements enable cities to go down their own paths, and also shared paths with other municipalities, (we shouldn´t forget that FUAs include more than one municipality) based on more consistent strategies.