Second-tier cities have been experiencing renewed interest within policy and research contexts, which is reversing a tradition of relative neglect due to the long-standing focus on large cities and capitals. This paper compares European second-tier and first-tier cities with regard to the presence of urban functions and how these are spread over their urban regions. The analysis shows the existence of a substantial ‘first city bonus’: a surplus of urban functions in first-tier cities which cannot be explained by their size or network embeddedness. We also show that second-tier cities are better served with urban functions in the absence of a dominant capital. In first-tier urban regions, the core municipality exploits the critical mass of the urban region to support its own functions, leaving that region functionally underserved. Second-tier cities lack this absorptive capacity, and their urban regions are endowed with more urban functions. These functional differences mean that second-tier cities demand a differentiated research and policy approach, in which city-regional integration becomes an important territorial development strategy. Rather than the dispersion process in first-tier cities leading to a ‘regionalization of the city’, integration in second-tier urban regions may be seen as a process of ‘citification of the region’.
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- urban regions
- urban functions
- second-tier cities
- metropolitan integration