EU audit shows big disparities in quality of city life

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The results of an urban audit measuring everything from housing and health to crime, climate and the recycling of waste reveal large disparities in the quality of urban life across Europe and indicate possible priorities for future EU cohesion policy funding.

According to the Commission, the new data and statistics, which cover more than 300 indicators affecting living conditions in 321 European cities, will provide “a significant resource in the context of cohesion policy and the European Strategy for Growth and Jobs” as it enables investment to be better matched to observed needs.

In addition, the data should also be used at national, regional and local decision-making in all policies that have an impact on cities, argued Regional Policy Commissioner Danuta Hübner, presenting the audit results on 23 September. 

Statistical information was gathered on variables across nine domains: demographics, social matters, the economy, the environment, training and education, mobility and transport, the information society, culture and recreation and civic involvement (participation in elections etc.). Some initial overall analysis has already been provided both by Eurostat and the Commission on demography, employment and the environment.

On unemployment, the statistics reveal “striking disparities” as the rate ranges from 30.8% in some Polish cities and 28.3% in Belgian ones to just 0.8% in Luxembourg. In general, the lowest unemployment rates were observed in Norwegian and UK cities. 

However, the Commission noted that “the disparity in unemployment rates between different districts of a single city is often greater than between the cities and regions of the European Union themselves,” citing Hamburg, Athens and Bratislava as examples. One of the aims of EU cohesion policy is to prevent the phenomenon of “ghettoisation” in major cities. 

Regarding populations, the statistics reveal that Turkish cities are growing the fastest, while others, particularly in Romania but also elsewhere in central and eastern Europe, are experiencing population decline.

On the environment, analysis of the statistics shows that some cities, such as Dresden and Frankfurt am Main, “manage to recycle almost 80% of their waste,” while Brussels incinerates more than 90% and around a third of the cities are using open landfills for more than 80% of their waste. EU cohesion policy attempts to reverse this trend by investing in projects related to household and industrial waste management.

One of the priorities of the renewed Lisbon Strategy and the Community Strategic Guidelines on Cohesion for 2007–2013 is to improve the attractiveness of regions and cities because a good quality of life is crucial for attracting and retaining a skilled labour force, businesses, students, tourists and residents to a city. 

The Urban Audit statistics are publicly available on the Urban Audit website, on which visitors can either read individual city profiles or rank and compare the audited cities according to different variables.

A detailed analysis of the Urban Audit data is currently underway and a ‘Report on the state of European cities’ will be published in September 2009.

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