Sustainable urban development

Cities are seen as both the source of and solution to today's economic, environmental and social challenges. Europe's urban areas are home to over two-thirds of the EU's population, they account for about 80 % of energy use and generate up to 85 % of Europe's GDP. These urban areas are the engines of the European economy and act as catalysts for creativity and innovation throughout the Union. But they are also places where persistent problems, such as unemployment, segregation and poverty, are at their most severe. Urban policies therefore have wider cross-border significance, which is why urban development is central to the EU's Regional Policy.

What is integrated sustainable urban development?

The various dimensions of urban life – environmental, economic, social and cultural – are interwoven and success in urban development can only be achieved through an integrated approach. Measures concerning physical urban renewal must be combined with those promoting education, economic development, social inclusion and environmental protection. It also calls for strong partnerships between local citizens, civil society, industry and various levels of government.

Such an approach is especially important at this time, given the seriousness of the challenges European cities currently face, ranging from green and digital transitions, specific demographic changes, the inclusion of migrants and refugees, to the consequences of economic stagnation in terms of job creation and social progress, and to the impact of climate change. The response to these challenges is critical for achieving the objectives envisaged as part of the European Green Deal and other Commission priorities.

Urban dimension of Cohesion Policy

The 2014-2020 period put the urban dimension at the very heart of Cohesion Policy. More than EUR 115 billion of ERDF resources have been invested in urban areas and around EUR 17 billion from the ERDF were directly allocated to integrated strategies for sustainable urban development. More than 900 cities were empowered to implement these integrated strategies for sustainable urban development.
Cohesion Policy in the 2021-2027 period will keep on investing in all regions and the European Commission has put forward a simpler and more flexible framework to better reflect the reality on the ground.
There is a focus on five policy objectives around a (1) Smarter, (2) Greener, (3) Connected, and (4) Social Europe, and a new cross-cutting objective (5) to bring Europe closer to citizens by supporting locally developed integrated territorial development strategies across the EU.
Cohesion Policy will continue to support integrated territorial and local development strategies through various tools and empower urban authorities and territorial bodies in the management of the funds, while requiring strong local partnerships with relevant stakeholders. The urban dimension of Cohesion Policy has been strengthened, with 8% of the European Regional Development Fund at national level dedicated to sustainable urban development strategies. Territorial tools, namely Integrated Territorial Investment (ITI), Community-Led Local Development (CLLD) and other territorial tools will be deployed to implement these strategies.
The new European Urban Initiative  will finance innovative actions to experiment and develop transferable and scalable innovative solutions to urban challenges, improve capacities of cities in the design and implementation of sustainable urban policies and practices in an integrated and participative way, and promote knowledge sharing and capitalisation for the benefit of urban policy makers and practitioners. The Urban Innovative Actions and the Urban Development Network under 2014-2020 Cohesion policy will be embedded in the EUI. The support of the Urban Agenda for the EU will also take place under this initiative.
Learn more about the way European cities are benefiting from EU's Regional Policy or about what happens in your Member State with Cohesion Policy.

The Urban Agenda for the EU

The Urban Agenda is an integrated and coordinated approach to deal with the urban dimension of EU and national policies and legislation. By focusing on concrete priority themes within dedicated Partnerships, the Urban Agenda seeks to improve the quality of life in urban areas. It is a new working method to ensure maximum utilization of the growth potential of cities and to successfully tackle social challenges and it aims to promote cooperation between Member States, Cities, the European Commission and other stakeholders, in order to stimulate growth, livability and innovation in the cities of Europe. Concretely, Partnerships are set-up around  priority themes with European and urban relevance. Within these Partnerships, urban challenges are identified and solutions are recommended through action plans (these are addressed to the EU, the Member States and the cities). The action plans will contain actions and examples of good projects to be scaled-up and transferred across the EU. Actions could be a proposal to amend an EU Directive, proposal linked to the implementation of structural funds, reinforcing cooperation on shared issues, or a project that worked well and that could be scaled-up/ transferred etc.
The Urban Agenda for the EU should lead to better regulation (more effective, more efficient and implemented at a lower cost), better funding (more adapted to the needs, simpler access, more integrated) and better knowledge (data, good practices/ projects, exchange of experiences).
The website on the Urban Agenda for the EU enables all stakeholders to contribute to the Urban Agenda as a whole or to the specific Partnerships. You are invited to join this community so you can contribute actively and make your voice heard! Please register so you will be receiving a newsletter and notifications related to your own interest.
Learn more in our brochure Urban agenda for the EU Multi-level governance in action

The EU and Cities

See how the Commission helps cities achieve EU objectives. Learn how cities can gain and share knowledge. Get information on funding and other support.
A one-stop-shop of EU policies for Cities

Cooperation and exchange of experience between cities


URBACT is a European exchange and learning programme promoting sustainable urban development, which integrates economic, social and environmental dimensions. It enables cities to work together to develop new, pragmatic and sustainable solutions to major urban challenges, reaffirming the key role they play in facing increasingly complex societal changes.  URBACT will continue enabling European cities to work together in 2021-2027 through transnational networks, capacity building and knowledge sharing activities.
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International Urban and Regional Cooperation (IURC)

The European Union launched the International Urban Cooperation Programme (IUC) programme to promote international urban cooperation in 2016, and decided to launch a second phase in 2021 to extend the programme to regional authorities and to additional countries. The International Urban and Regional Cooperation Programme  entails cooperation on common urban and territorial challenges, with particular attention to the green and digital transitions and the inclusive post-pandemic recovery, namely by pairing up EU with non-EU partner cities or regions in order to share knowledge and best practices. Cities and regions will cooperate in three thematic networks: the ecological transition and green deal; urban and regional renewal and social cohesion; and innovative sustainable and carbon-neutral ecosystems and strategic sectors.
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The TAIEX REGIO PEER 2 PEER tool is designed to share expertise between bodies that manage funding under the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) and the Cohesion Fund.
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