5: Metropolization Processes and Intra-Regional Contrasts: The Uneven Fortunes of English Secondary Cities

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The attention given to secondary cities by scholars, policy-makers and businesses has been steadily increasing in recent years (OECD, 2012; Dijkstra, 2013; Camagni et al, 2015; Parkinson et al, 2015; Cardoso and Meijers, 2017; Meili and Mayer, 2017). This is a welcome development that expands debates beyond the dominant interest in the spectacular successes and failures of the largest cities, popularized by ideas about how we now live in an ‘urban age’. Secondary cities can be defined both at national and regional scales. In Europe, national secondary cities are those lacking the economic weight, political voice and attractive pull of primate cities (generally capitals) but still important enough to play a relevant role in national and international contexts (ESPON, 2012). Regional secondary cities, the focus of this chapter, are small and medium-sized cities that are part of an interdependent urban region and often lie in the sphere of influence of a larger core city, fuelling its economy, cooperating and competing with it for population, activities and resources, and interacting with it through various flows (Chapter 1, this volume).

While both types of city may share similar problems – policy neglect in comparison with more ‘successful’ cities, emptying out of functions, population or activities due to the dominance of a larger competitor, incapacity to profit from synergies with other cities nearby (Hodos, 2011; Cardoso, 2016a) – the existing literature on regional secondary cities is thinner on the ground. Although urban regions are recognized as relevant arenas of economic activity, institutional cooperation and functional interaction, the small and medium-sized cities that constitute them are often seen as a rather indistinct, semi-dependent hinterland of the core city (Servillo et al, 2017).

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