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Lewis Dijkstra, European Commission, DG for Regional and Urban Policy – The tale of broadville and narrowtown: Why we need a global, people-based definition of cities and settlements

By on September 30, 2016
Lecturer - profile

Lewis Dijkstra

Deputy Head of Unit

Main affiliation
European Commission, DG for Regional and Urban Policy



European Union


Lewis Dijkstra is the deputy head of unit of the Analysis Unit of the Directorate-General for Regional and Urban Policy, European Commission. He is the editor and main author of the Cohesion Reports. These focus on the regional and urban dimension of economic, social and environmental issues. His latest work and publications included cover topics such as the development of metropolitan regions in the EU, population change in remote rural regions, labour mobility in the EU and the US, regional competitiveness and quality of government.

English Proficiency
Mother tongue

Previous experience of recording video lectures

Experience of lecturing to large audiences

Experience of lecturing to large audiences

Frequency of lectures

Recording opportunities
Habitat III attendance and availability
I will be in Quito from 15 October to 21 October


Main themes
Urban Management
Sustainable Cities
Planning and Design
Information and Monitoring

The tale of broadville and narrowtown: Why we need a global, people-based definition of cities and settlements

This lecture explains why without a global definition of cities, urban indicators are hopelessly distorted and proposes the degree of urbanisation as new method to solve this problem.

Issues which the lecture addresses
The boundary of a city will have a big impact on the indicators linked to the urban Sustainable Development Goal. For example, a narrow definition focussed on the city centre will lead to poor scores on air quality and the presence of open or green space, but it will give better scores for access to public transport. Also measuring changes over time will be influenced by where the boundary is drawn as most growth occurs at the fringes of a city. The degree of urbanisation is based on a population grid of 1 sq km that overcomes the problem of the differences in municipal geometry. It identifies three degrees of urbanisation: (1) cities, (2) towns and suburbs and (3) rural areas.

Short analysis of the above issues
To help cities learn from each other, the EU and the OECD wanted to find a harmonised definition of a city. This led to a new definition which has been implemented in all EU countries and most non-EU OECD member countries. Now Eurostat, the statistical offices for the EU, publishes over 100 indicators by degree of urbanisation and a wide range of indicators per city. The big stumbling block to a harmonised definition was the difficulty to identify cities that were part of a much larger municipality (which consequently had a very low population density) or that were spread across multiple municipalities. A new tool, the population grid allowed us to overcome these obstacles.

Propositions for addressing the issue
(1) Why is it important to have a global definition of cities? This will show in clear, visual manner the problems linked to differences in city definitions. It will be presented as a discussion between two mayors (Brad from Broadville and Nell from Narrowtown). (2) The impact on the indicators linked to the urban SDG will be demonstrated both for measurements for a single point in time and changes over time. This will demonstrate that all these indicators are highly sensitive to where the boundary is drawn (the so-called modifiable areal unit problem). (3) How does the degree of urbanisation work? This will explain step by step how the degree of urbanisation can be applied. (4) What were the main lessons from the experience with this new definition in the EU over the past five years? This will explain how this new definition has helped to produced better and more data for cities. (5) What do the results of this new method look when applied to the globe. This will build on the work done for the State of European Cities REport, 2016 where the first chapter analyses and describes the 13,000 cities in the world identified using the degree of urbanisation.

Additional Reading Materials
http://ec.europa.eu/cities-report (Link will be active from 12 October onwards)