La Coruña, Brest, Puerto Montt and Duluth: four mid-sized cities (metro populations between 200.000 and 400.000) that are often described as ports, that are rather far from the central areas of their countries. January will be in this blog the month of the far away ports, into the mid-sized cities series.
La Coruña is a relevant port and the hub for a relevant metro area that structures the Galician atlantic axis. Brest is the most populated city in western Britanny and a strategic port that has paid for this situation. Puerto Montt is the gate to the Chilean Patagonia, and Duluth is the end of the American Great Lakes and the coldest of these four cities; as for Duluth, even if it is somehow central when related to the 48 coterminous states, this only reminds that geography has an added complexity.
No doubt, these are diverse landscapes and conditions, but with common features: complex coastlines, rocky and hilly.
15 years ago the UN participated in the definition of the Lleida Statement on Intermediate Cities and World Urbanisation (available at http://www.unesco.org/most/ciudades.pdf), focused on local autonomy, international cooperation between intermediate cities, and urban planning and management. There is a strong focus on developing world cities, an issue that has clearly evolved since then.
The French Federation of Mid-sized cities
(http://www.villesmoyennes.asso.fr/). It groups some 200 Mayors of mid size cities or inter-municipal managers. The complexity of the administrative map of local government in France and the intermunicipal cooperation schemes lead to a great relevance in their work for fiscal and partnership schemes, but they also work in other things.
I’d like to talk about mid-sized cities by using examples from around the world. But I think that I will rather focus on what I know best. Iberian and French cities are those I know best, as well as (generally) European ones. I have visited only a handful of cities in the Americas, but for many reasons I feel I can say things about them. I’d like to talk about cities in other continents, but here my knowledge is (unfortunately) more limited.
Defining a set of rules to identify interesting mid-sized cities is not an easy task. I will group them according to what seem to be common features, so a comparative approach could be interesting.
Some cities are described as ports, or regional capitals, or faith hubs, or according to other qualities. If you dig a bit deeper, sometimes interesting things may appear.
After having focused mainly on big cities, 2014 will be one of the main themes of this blog during 2014.
What a mid-sized city is? As the readers of this blog are scattered through diverse areas, the best way to define this concept would be a qualitative rather than a quantitative one. There is a Federation of Mid-sized Cities in France that groups those that are central and have 20.000-100.000 residents, but this is difficult to extrapolate. Porfirio Diaz, who presided Mexico in the later XIXth century, is said to have lamented “poor Mexico, so far from god and so close to the United States”. A mid-sized city is probably as far or as close to god as its dwellers allow, but in geographical terms it is far enough from a megalopolis to have a certain independent life and to polarise the dynamics around it.
The mid-size city: a qualitative condition
The demographic or economic weight of a city is not nearly as important as its ability to create those links and to develop them over time. In that sense, a mid-sized city could well be called a mid-rank city, as it occupies an intermediate situation in an urban network, and it could not even be the most populated city in a metro area. Besides, the distance at which a city can be considered to have some independence from a megalopolis does not respond to a fixed rule. Independence is also a fuzzy concept in an interlinked world.
You can sometimes hear that mid-sized cities have a better quality of life than mega-cities. That can be true, but they can also be less resilient in a crisis if their economies are not diverse, and remember that theorists usually agree on the fact that economic diversity requires a certain size. So perhaps the best way to get a better view is to look at several mid-sized cities (chosen with my imperfect knowledge) to try to get some conclusions.