Climate change, COVID-19 recovery, growing inequalities, migration pressures, polarisation, and many more - the challenges European cities are facing can easily feel overwhelming.
They demand that city leaders work in new ways, collaborating across traditional government, sectoral and territorial boundaries; deepening relations with citizens and forging new political alliances. This in turn will involve developing new governance capabilities, in areas like behaviour change, collaborative working, digital transformation, public engagement and emergency management.
Against this background, LSE Cities is leading a programme on the future of European cities focused on four broad questions:
- How have European cities and urban governance changed in the last twenty-five years?
- What are the critical challenges now facing Europe's city governments and how are they approaching them?
- What can European cities learn from cities in other global regions to help them better confront these challenges?
- What support do European city leaders need to meet the challenges ahead and how can this programme help provide it?
The programme will build a Knowledge Hub on European cities and city leaders, conduct in-depth research on how European cities are approaching their most pressing challenges, and convene roundtables with leading policy and academic experts from Europe and beyond.
The results of the research and engagement activities of the European Cities Programme will be summarised in blogs, policy briefs, and academic articles.
A new sense of power and purpose
In recent years, Europe’s urban centres have gained a new sense of power and purpose – a development aided by the transition to an urbanised, post-industrial economy, a growing expert policy consensus in favour of cities, and, within the European Union, supranational funding, and policy support.
Though the picture varies across the continent, on the whole Europe’s cities have gained new agency, become better networked and developed an increasingly confident sense of shared identity. Many cities have seen sustained investment in public transport, walking and cycling, public spaces, green infrastructure, cultural and visitor amenities, higher education and, at least in some cases, affordable housing and sustainable urban extensions.
It’s become common to hear European city leaders and commentator draw a contrast between the civic, green, cosmopolitan and forward-thinking outlook of their voters and the conservatism of national politics.
Challenges, ambitions and expectations
But there is another side to the story. Even as European cities appear to have gained in influence and confidence, the challenges they face seem to mount. Many city governments have set ambitious decarbonisation targets, with an increasing number promising to be carbon-neutral by 2030.
But alongside the radical actions that they will need to take to get on a sustainable footing and adapt to climate change, residents – and national governments – are looking to them to tackle stubborn and often growing inequalities, increase the supply of affordable housing, accommodate and integrate migrant communities, respond to the needs of an aging population, create healthier more resilient food systems, manage disruptive technologies, boost skills and economic opportunity – the list could go on.
And all this against a background of limited and often diminishing city budgets, political polarisation and heightened political mobilisation enabled by social media, and the prospect of further health, climate, and other emergencies for which they are on the frontlines.
The European Cities Programme will help city leaders build on the progress urban centres have made and address their most pressing challenges.
Ben Rogers is the Programme Director for the European Cities Programme and a Distinguished Policy Fellow at LSE Cities. He was founding Director of Centre for London from 2011 to 2021 and is also Professor of Practice, London, at the University of London. He has written several acclaimed books on philosophy and history and has written widely on cities, citizenship, and urban policy.
Catarina Heeckt is the Programme Lead for the European Cities Programme and a Policy Fellow at LSE Cities. She is responsible for managing the day-to-day running of the programme and oversees policy-relevant research, drawing on more than a decade of work to promote transitions towards more resilient and inclusive urban development.
Nuno Ferreira da Cruz is the Research Lead for the European Cities Programme and Assistant Professorial Research Fellow at LSE Cities. He is responsible for overseeing research outputs and ensuring that they build on the latest thinking and cutting-edge academic and policy research related to urban governance.
Francesco Ripa is the Policy and Engagement Manager for the programme. Francesco monitors relevant developments in European cities, liaises with external partners and contributes to policy-relevant research activities.
Lucie Charles is a senior researcher for the European Cities Programme. She supports policy relevant research across all aspects of the project, with a particular focus on good growth in cities.