36th AESOP Annual Congress 2024 Paris, France
“GAME CHANGER? Planning for just and sustainable urban regions”

Beyond 'left behindness': Understanding The Role of Small and Medium Size Towns for territorial innovation

 Organizers :  

  • Loris Antonio Servillo, DIST - Politecnico di Torino
  • Alois Humer, Austrian Academy of Sciences, Institute for Urban and Regional Research
  • Christophe Demaziere, Université de Lille


  • Alois Humer, Austrian Academy of Sciences, Institute for Urban and Regional Research
  • Christophe Demaziere, Université de Lille
  • Johanna Lilius, Aalto University
  • Carlotta Fioretti, JRC expert and EUI European Urban Initiative
  • Marco Del Fiore, DIST - Politecnico di Torino
  • Mauro Fontana, DIST - Politecnico di Torino
  • Anna Growe, University of Kassel
  • Thomas Terfrüchte, TU Dortmund
  • Coralie MarboeufUniversité Clermont Auvergne

In the last decades, the concept of 'left-behind places' has emerged as a means to address geographical inequalities and marginalized areas (Pike et  al., 2023). While this phenomenon encompasses a wide range of territories, it is notable that many such areas coincide with territories with low degrees of urbanization. Recent research and publications from both scholars and national and international institutions have increasingly focused on Small and Medium-Sized Towns and Cities (SMST&C) and their surrounding functional areas, along with their associated local  development strategies. 

On one hand, publications like 'The Handbook of Territorial and Local Development Strategies' by JRC and DG REGIO, as well as policy documents like the 'Territorial Agenda 2030' have emphasized the role of towns and cities in promoting territorial cohesion. On the other hand, initiatives like the EU Rural Pact and an EU Rural Action Plan have identified SMST&C as crucial assets for fostering local development strategies, and positive synergies between urban and rural areas, thereby strengthening urban-rural linkages. 

A range of issues, strategies, tools, and projects are currently under consideration for these territories. While research (ESPON, 2014; ESPON, 2023) has stressed the importance of addressing polycentric territories and tailoring areas for strategic policy purposes through flexible planning approaches, several countries have adopted specific national agendas to address both lagging behind areas and specific small urban areas. 

Consequently, this special panel aims to bridge the perspectives on left-behind places, SMST&C, and instruments and policies for tailored  areas. This session aims to encompass both theoretical and practical aspects and explore potential paths for further research in the fields of governance research and planning studies. The contributions will exemplify diverse issues, among which the following topics: 

  • Planning methods, policies, and innovative tools at various levels, from the EU to local governments.
  • The cultural discourse, narratives, spatial imaginaries, and policy strategies. 
  • Governance and institutional innovations.
  • The relationship between soft and hard planning approaches and their implications in urban and regional planning.

Keywords:  Left behind, small and medium-sized towns and cities, governance, institutional innovation, policies