Intermediary Cities in the new urban agenda

By Josep Roig, Secretary General of United Cities and Local Governments, for the Magazine Ciudades Sostenibles, special number of I Cities.

Today, it would be impossible to conduct an in-depth analysis of the urban phenomenon without taking into account the role of intermediary cities, defined here as cities with less than 1 million inhabitants. In reality, these cities, at both local and regional level, account for over 50% of the global urban population.  

Intermediary cities are large cities that create bridges to connect important rural and urban areas, and represent, for the rural population, an opportunity to access basic facilities (like schools, hospitals, administrative processes, and markets) and services (such as employment, electricity, IT services, transport). By having this intermediate position, they are also a transition point to exit rural poverty for the majority of citizens. Furthermore, owing to the relations created with metropolises, they are able to compliment other cities and run as a system of cities. 

Despite having a fundamental role in the global urbanization process, intermediary cities were previously removed from the knowledge exchange based on experience and relating to strategic planning. In view of this, they will require greater attention in the coming years, given that local governments must prepare for rapid urban growth and the major challenges that will be faced in the future: namely, political and financial dependence, limited capacity and scarce financial resources. These challenges, aside from being common to many other cities and metropolitan areas throughout the world, have a particular scope and impact on intermediary cities.  

UCLG and intermediary cities

Governments, especially local and regional governments, should come together to address the shortcomings and needs in urban planning through a greater understanding of the challenges and the perspectives of local governments. The international institutions, are increasingly recognizing the importance of medium and small cities in the urbanization process and in regional sustainable development.

UCLG has also incorporated intermediary cities into its agenda. Since early 2013, UCLG, with the Urban Strategic Planning Committee, its members, associations and regions, including also the support of Cities Alliance, the Norwegian government and the European Commission and other UCLG committees, has been consulting local leaders through city-to-city cooperation and workshops on the role and the challenges for intermediary cities. 

The New Urban Agenda

All the recommendations gathered by UCLG have been brought together in one "frame document" drawn up by UCLG on the basis of contributions of more than 40 researchers and professionals. The "frame document", debated by UCLG members, brings together political recommendations on planning and financing the sustainable development of intermediary cities.   

The work and knowledge stemming from the study and the cooperation of contributing cities to the strategic spatial planning and financing can be used to guide sustainable development to better adapt to the unique conditions of cities for the future. The future urban agenda could, therefore, allow for sustainable, inclusive and diverse cities and environments.

In view of this, we call upon the international community, networks and partners, to exchange knowledge and solutions based on evidence between global intermediary cities.  

Source: Revista Ciudades Sostenibles

Check out the magazine about Intermediary Cities (available in Spanish).