The Danube Region: a polycentric network combining hub approaches and smart specialisation

Some European capital cities jointly function as a gateway in the form of a polycentric network with regard to specific functions in a macro-region. Through cooperation and a division of labour the cities of Bratislava, Budapest, Ljubljana, Prague and Vienna are attempting to implement the idea of smart specialisation. At the same time, all five metropolitan areas are also trying to position themselves as hubs towards neighbouring regions and countries in their own geographical context.

The ESPON Targeted Analysis project POLYCE demonstrates that developing co-operative practices brings added value both in terms of individual and joint competitiveness by stimulating the thinking of involved stakeholders around their potential specialisations and complementarities with their partners. At the same time, combining specialisations within larger geographical areas and joint action helps to build more resilient regional economies.

In order take full advantage of the benefits of further polycentric development in this transnational metropolitan region, not only should the existing cooperation among the five capitals be strengthened, but it will also be crucial for them to engage with medium-sized cities and towns to strengthen the urban networks in the respective national contexts as well as in Central Europe.

Functional polycentric relations are particularly strong in terms of research and company business networks

The five cities share a long history, culture and good cooperation of their countries. The linkages and cooperation between them are of different strength and intensity. Considering polycentricity, each of the five cities stands out in its own way, each being an important focal point in the Central European urban network. Functional polycentric relations are particularly strong in terms of research and company business networks.

As reported by one the of the project stakeholders, the main reason for territorial cooperation is to find a balanced way to work together and at the same time compete with each other, and identify the potentials and challenges for such cooperation/competition.

Some cities still have opportunities to improve their inner polycentric structure, strengthen their ties within European economic or research networks or improve their connectivity. All capitals have made polycentric development a cornerstone of their spatial planning systems.

As the project concluded, different kinds of flows, networks and cooperation ventures between the cities might stimulate and strengthen each other. Consequently, enhancing political, economic and social networks via governance measures could improve the conditions for all kinds of interaction between the five cities.