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Approaches to Assessing the Development of Urban Agglomerations

A publication “Approaches to Assessing the Development of Urban Agglomerations”, which had been funded through IUE Endowment, summarized the accomplishments of the project “Improving the Quality of Planning and Managing the Projects of Urban Agglomerations Development” carried out in 2017. The authors are A. Puzanov, IUE Director General, and R. Popov, Deputy Director of Municipal Economic Development Department. 

The publication provides an analysis of current assessment problem and presents a new methodology for assessing urban agglomerations designed to improve the quality of planning and managing of urban agglomerations. The publication presents approaches to the way the new methodology for assessing the development of urban agglomerations should be established. It also summarizes the results of pilot assessment of four Russia’s metropolitan areas – Yekaterinburg, Novosibirsk, Rostov and Vladivostok. 

A surge of interest to the phenomenon of urban agglomerations as complex urban settlement- and socio-economic systems, which require special urban management approaches, is currently obvious in Russia.  This reflects a global trend spawned by a number of reasons, chief among which is the increasing role of major cities and metropolitan areas in modern society. Today, neither a full-fledged analysis of socio-economic processes unfolding in urban areas nor development planning based on the analysis, is any longer confined to the boundaries of certain major cities. Urban agglomeration is gradually taking over the role of an ‘urban unit’ from a city.

International organizations (European Union, UN) are collecting statistical data not only and not so much on cities, but rather on metropolitan areas or urban areas - the terms are close to the concept of urban agglomeration. In Russia, however, federal policy on urban agglomerations is still being developed. Yet in regional planning documents the concept of urban agglomerations, as a specific form, has been around for a long time.

In 2015 the Interagency Working Group on Socio-Economic Development of Urban Agglomerations was established by the order of the Ministry of Economic Development of the Russian Federation. Among its tasks is elaboration of state support measures for development of urban agglomerations and mechanisms for managing the agglomerations based, inter alia, on international practices. To promote implementation of the measures the RF Government has drawn up an action plan (a ‘road map’) entitled “Development of Urban Agglomerations in the Russian Federation”. The document has not yet been formally approved. Its draft, however, undergoes occasional revisions.

The road map, like any planning document, contains performance indicators. There are only three such indicators and all of them have to do with the promotion of Russian cities and Russia, at large, in international ratings (Mercer, PricewaterhouseCoopers and WB’s Doing Business). This is obviously not enough for a comprehensive assessment of the performance of state policy on urban agglomerations, while there is a need for assessing the performance. Besides, regional and local authorities related to urban agglomerations, also need the assessment because all of them, one way or another, encounter the problems which can be solved through improving mechanisms for agglomeration development management.

It is evident that the same management mechanisms, other things being equal, will operate with different efficiency in agglomerations at different levels of development, and will have different impacts on intra-agglomeration relations. Thus the task of elaborating a methodology for assessing the level of development of agglomerations, including creating a system of indicators to draw conclusions necessary to adjust the relevant regional and municipal policies, becomes particularly relevant.