Slides from the lecture are available here.

(Online) EPRC – SPS Seminars on contemporary challenges in European spatial development

28 May 2020 – 12:30-14:00 (CET)

Lewis Dijkstra : Everything you heard about global urbanisation is wrong”

Abstract: The UN Statistical Commission endorsed the first ever global definition of cities, towns and rural areas earlier this year. This presentation will show why this new definition is sorely needed and what we can learn from it. Most analysis of global urbanisation relies on data collected by the UN based on national definitions. This new global definition reveals which national definitions produce similar urban and rural population shares and which lead to radically different ones. This new definition goes beyond the traditional urban-rural dichotomy and captures the urban-rural continuum. Comparisons with national definitions show that it is the middle category, i.e. towns and semi-dense areas,  is the most contested. Some countries consider it as entirely urban, while others insist it is fully rural. Also the past and future changes in urbanisation are radically different when using this new definition. The UN figures show a rapidly urbanising world with a shrinking rural population. In contrast, the new definition shows a world that already has a large share of its population in cities, towns and semi-dense areas and shows much more moderate changes with cities growing, but more slowly and rural areas continuing to grow instead of declining. The presentation concludes with an overview of the broader implications of this new definition and the next steps to take this forward.

Lewis Dijkstra is the Head of the Economic Analysis Sector of the Directorate-General for Regional and Urban Policy in the European Commission. He is the editor the Cohesion Report, which analyses economic, social and environmental issues in EU regions and cities. He is also a visiting professor at the London School of Economics. He works closely with the OECD, the UN, the World Bank, the European Environmental Agency, the Joint Research Centre and Eurostat.  His recent work covers topics such as a global definition of cities and rural areas, measuring transport performance, the geography of EU discontent, quality of government and gender equality. He holds a PhD in Urban and Regional Planning from Rutgers University, New Jersey, an MSc in Urban and Regional Planning from the London School of Economics and a BA in Political Science from the University of Ghent, Belgium.



Dr. Alexander Wandl (Urbanism, TU Delft). Alexander is an Urbanist and Senior Researcher of Environmental Technology and Design, at the Faculty of Architecture and the Built Environment. His research focuses on developing sustainable urbanisation, using an extended territorial metabolism approach and integrating (GIS-supported) methods and tools from different disciplines. As scientific coordinator of the Horizon 2020 Funded Research Project Repair—Resource Management in Peri-Urban Areas—he is at the forefront of developing spatial strategies which support the transition towards more circularity. He specifically focuses on the challenges related to the sustainable development of dispersed urban areas and periurbanisation processes in Europe.

Dr. Martin Ferry (EPRC, University of Strathclyde). Martin is a Senior Research Fellow at EPRC. He holds a BA (Hons) in Politics from the University of Strathclyde and a PhD in Central and East European politics from the University of Glasgow. Since joining EPRC in 2002, Martin has specialised in regional economic development and policy in Central and Eastern Europe (particularly Poland) and the United Kingdom. His research on Central Eastern European issues for EPRC has included managing a Work Programme under the EU Seventh Framework Programme on Growth – Innovation – Competitiveness: Fostering Cohesion in Central and Eastern Europe (GRINCOH). Martin is particularly interested in the governance and implementation of national regional policy and Cohesion policy, as reflected in several research strands. First, he has studied the institutional frameworks of regional policy and the construction of regional policy governance at different spatial scales, where his work has included ex-post evaluations of policy implementation models, carried out on behalf of EU institutions and national authorities. Second, he has undertaken research on policy coordination and the pursuit of policy synergies, where his research has involved major comparative studies on the coordinated implementation of Cohesion policy and other economic development policies. Third, he has research interests in institutional capacity, policy efficiency and accountability. Here, his experience includes leading EPRC input to a major, EU-wide study on the administrative costs of Cohesion policy management and implementation carried out on behalf of the European Commission. He has published a range of academic articles, book chapters and policy reports on these themes.


Dr. Eva Purkarthofer obtained a bachelor’s and master’s degree in urban and regional planning from Vienna University of Technology (2007-2013) and a PhD in spatial planning from Aalto University (2015-2018). In 2020, Eva started a 22-month post-doctoral scholarship at TU Delft in the section Spatial Planning and Strategy, funded by the LEaDing Fellows Programme (Marie Sklodowska-Curie COFUND). Eva’s post-doc project focuses on the dimension of agency in planning processes.


– Award for Best Doctoral Dissertation, awarded by the Dean of the School of Engineering, Aalto University (2018)
– Werner-Ernst-Preis, awarded by the Academy of Spatial Research and Planning ( Akademie für Raumforschung und Landesplanung) (2014)




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