Secondary Cities
Exploring Uneven Development in Dynamic Urban Regions of the Global North

3: Small and Medium-Sized Towns as Secondary Cities: The Case of Switzerland

The largest cities in Switzerland are not very large, at least from an international comparative perspective: in 2016, Zurich was the biggest Swiss city and was home to 402,762 residents. Geneva had 198,979 residents while Basel counted 171,017. Lausanne and Bern were about the same size, counting 137,810 and 133,115 residents respectively. Among the cities with more than 100,000 residents, there is only Winterthur (109,775) in addition to the ones already mentioned. Four more cities (Biel, Lugano, Lucerne and St. Gallen) make it onto the list of cities with more than 50,000 residents (SSV and BFS, 2018). As a result, the vast majority of Swiss cities need to be considered as small and medium-sized towns (SMSTs). There are a total of 152 SMSTs with a population up to 50,000 residents.1

In many cases, these SMSTs take on the role of secondary cities in the context of the larger urban agglomerations. Take, for example, the two case study cities that will be discussed in this chapter, Thun and Wädenswil. The city of Thun had 43,568 residents in 2016 (SSV and BFS, 2018). Because Thun is located only about 30 km south-east of the city centre of Bern, a large majority of Thun residents commute daily for work between Thun and Bern. In addition, there are numerous other close links between these two cities. Yet Thun, historically supported by tourism and military spending, has played a rather inferior role when compared to Bern. From 1384 until 1798, Thun was subordinate to Bern; during this time the latter became the most important city-state north of the Alps.

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