Round table details

​This round table follows up on session S5 (Small Towns in Global Perspective)


Peter Clark (University of Helsinki) and Bill Rowe


Small Castilian Towns in the Duero River Basin: Historical Background and Main Influencing Factors in their Contemporary Evolution (1842-2011) (María A. Castrillo Romón , Juan Luis de las Rivas Sanz, Miguel Fernández Maroto)

In the Iberian Peninsula, geographical and historical conditions have defined different regions whose urban systems and towns also present very different features. The Duero river basin, in its Spanish part, is a well-differentiated geographical region that has been ruled by a single political power since the unification of the Kingdoms of Castile and Leon in the 13th century until nowadays, when it corresponds to the Spanish Autonomous Community of Castile and Leon. This paper proposes an analysis of the small towns of this region, that is, those urban nuclei with a certain significance (economic, political or administrative) but that occupy the lower positions in the hierarchy of the urban system. An introductory historical approach to the diverse configurations of this system, shaped in the Middle Ages, shows very marked continuities between the Modern and Contemporary Ages, but also important discontinuities that particularly concern the smaller towns, with a systemic process of ruralisation. 

A specific analysis is devoted to the 52 small towns that were designated as capitals of the judicial districts that were defined in 1834. Through the analysis of the demographic data contained in the 33 modern census (1842-2011), it is possible to tentatively define four different patterns that characterize the contemporary evolution of these small urban nuclei that played the relevant role of judicial seats: (i) towns that have had a continuous demographic decline since the XIX century, (ii) towns that have experienced a certain population boom between mid-XIX and mid-XX centuries (first industrialization) but a later decline, (iii) towns that have experienced a general upward trend and a more recent decline, in the last decades of the XX century, and (iv) towns with a relatively consistent population growth. By comparing these population trends with some geographical constraints and with the evolution throughout this period of the economic policies and the territorial accessibility provided by infrastructures, it is possible to define some influencing factors, also illustrated through some selected case studies, that may explain the different demographic evolution of these 52 small Castilian towns.

Thinking Creativity beyond Metropolis: The Czech Small Towns in c. 1900-1945 (Jaroslav Ira)

In popular imaginary, small towns have long been considered marginal spaces of modernity. Whether seen as dull places that await civilizing mission from the big cities, or idealized remnants of rustic idyll and unspoiled kernels of national communities, small towns were relegated to the receiving ends of cultural innovations and intellectual activity. In a similar vein, urban studies tended to conceptualize small town culture mainly in terms of diffusion from or emulation of bigger centers, with small towns largely devoid of cultural creativity and agency.30 In this paper, I problematize such narratives and turn attention to historical efforts to overcome the sense of cultural marginality. More specifically, I will focus on the Czech small towns in the first half of the twentieth century. In this period, remarkable discourse evolved among Czech intelligentsia, based in major centers as well as in the small towns, on the necessity to restore cultural centrality of small towns, and to make them sites of endogenous cultural creativity, allegedly suppressed during the conquer of small towns by the metropolitan culture in the nineteenth century. In the interwar period, the effort reached its climax and materialized in an array of ideas and notions, as well as in concrete attempts to set up culturally and intellectually thriving small towns. The proposed paper will: - Illustrate the range of aspirations and desired roles for small towns, stretching from cultural centrality in regions, to producers of original artistic patterns, to sources of new social ideas. - Consider intellectual resources that framed these aspirations, such as the popular ideology of regionalism and more locally-specific discursive context of Czechoslovak state-building. - Discuss, on the concrete example of a culturally thriving small town, factors that conditioned and undermined outbursts of creativity. As the Czech example reveals, the very awareness of living in a small town, and the fear of cultural marginalization, have often stimulated production of original ideas about the society at large, and practices to be followed. This opens up more general questions that regard meanings, intellectual frameworks, and preconditions of the small-town creativity in modern and contemporary Europe.

Greek Small Coastal Cities in Transition (Katerina Chatzikonstantinou, Lydia Sapounaki-Dracaki)

The paper seeks to investigate changes in the evolution of small cities in Greece since 1923, essentially the starting point of the structure of the modern Greek city, with the final formation of the country’s territory. It wishes to analyze the determinants and transformation tendencies in the network of Greek settlements, within the country’s hierarchical spatial structure and system, as it crystallizes after 1950. The focus will be on the network of small towns on the Greek islands of the Aegean Sea, which in the last 3-4 decades have developed economically in the tourism industry precisely because of the virtues of their natural environment and traditional architecture. The same economic parameters that are responsible for the distinct phenomena of regional diffusion of urbanization have since affected the mobility of the productions factors, the infrastructures and overall the quality of life of the 27 inhabitants. The biggest risks for these small cities arise from the rapid residential development that disrespects the conditions of protection of the natural environment and cultural heritage, often as a result of scattered residential development with uncontrolled densities and dilations of construction, as well as the mass change of urban function, often with a six-month duration, analogous to the tourist season. The islands Ydra, Aigina, Spetses in the Saronic Gulf will be used as case studies, with different development approaches, starting all as empowered nautical centers (up until the 19th century) and then transforming to upcoming tourist destinations after the mid 20th century, and derive their dynamism both from their relationships with the dominant metropolitan centre of the country's capital, Athens, but also from exogenous agents. The 'reinvention' of these small cities in the Aegean sea proves the dynamism of these small cities over time and different situations, nevertheless, it also alerts for a well thought out organized framework of further evolution in order for their special local character (natural, architectural, cultural) to remain sustainable within this dynamism. Where possible, we will try and make comparisons with other Mediterranean regions, posing questions on how typical the Greek small town experience was.

Small Town Growth on the North European Periphery (Steinar Aas, Matti Hannikainen)

This paper will reflect on urban growth in Circumpolar Norway through the 19th and 20th century, its reasons and the change of course from liberal, mediator state, trying to establish a national grid of towns, in a hierarchical urban landscape, to the social democrat nation state with its direct incentives to urban growth. This will be compared to Finnish small town development during the same era with the impact of industrialisation, railway development and state policy.

The rise and fall of small Nordic towns (Lars Nilsson)

Industrial revolution meant among many other things an increased demand for localities on the countryside that could fulfill the functions of a central place. Consequently a wide net of small towns aroused that offered services such as commerce, transports, railway stations, banking, postal service, schools, health service, local administration, culture etc. for their hinterlands. In many small towns such central functions were combined with factory production, which gave them still wider hinterlands. Some localities even developed into important export nodes. The combination of central place and export functions resulted often in a population number which was much higher than what was needed for the central functions alone. The small towns, thus, not only served their national hinterlands but were also engaged in international business which generated foreign hinterlands. Sometimes factory production came first, as for example for mining towns, and central functions developed by the time. But the combination of export node and central place could anyway be the same. The nordic small town had its haydays in the 1950s and the 1960s and not least during the ”green wave” ending in the early 1970s. The following de-industrialisation meant that many of the small towns role as export nodes in international networking was reduced or totally lost. The number of inhabitants became too high for delivering services just to the domestic hinterland, and the towns began to shrink. Many small towns even lost central functions which led to further reduction of population and economy. The idea is to present a short general narrative of the rise and fall of the Nordic small town with focus on growth processes. Aspects to consider: Which type (size, function etc.) of small towns grew during certain periods, and which stagnated? The regional distribution of expanding and contracting small towns. Factors behind the expansion, and shrinking, of small nordic towns, for example the role of public welfare investments, the importance of export manufacturing as well as central services. Can a small town expand without external influences? How has globalisation effected small towns in northern Europe?