This map shows at a glance where Europe's richest cities and regions are

A close up on the EU's map of the European economy.

So, this is pretty cool: a map showing every the size of every local economy in Europe.

This one graphic contains myriad different stories. But by far the most obvious is quite how much of the European economy is concentrated in the area that is, faintly nauseatingly, known as the “blue banana”: the arc of urbanisation stretching from Liverpool to Rome, covering England, the Benelux countries, western Germany and northern Italy.

Some explanatory notes before we proceed. The map is taken from this exciting EU report, Mapping European Territorial Structures & Dynamics, which was published in November 2014. (We won't give away the ending.) It covers 32 countries in all: the 28 in the EU, three more in the European Economic Area, and those awkward buggers in Switzerland. That, faintly confusingly, means that white areas sometimes mean “sea”, and sometimes mean “countries we haven’t included”.

The map uses Eurostat data, and despite initial appearances, it doesn't just show cities at all. In fact, it shows every “NUTS 3” region (don’t ask) across the whole of Europe. On much of the continent that's the equivalent of a city, or a county, but in some places it isn’t. That leads to slight oddities such as the way that the map draws direct comparisons between the city of Rome, the London Borough of Redbridge and the state of Cyprus.

As to what he boxes themselves mean, their size represents the size of their economy, not the size of the population (although there is some correlation). Darker boxes are richer than the European average; lighter ones are poorer.

Mix it all together, and here's what you get.

A few observations...

1. Certain cities leap out at you: Madrid, Barcelona, Rome and Athens in the south; Dublin, Stockholm, Berlin and Helsinki further north.

2. Other cities, though, look more like thick clusters of boxes. The Île de France region, which is basically Greater Paris with a bit added on, contains no fewer than eight different NUTS 3 regions; consequently it looks like a whole mess of blue. There's something similar going on with Vienna (albeit on a smaller scale).

3. In other areas though – in England, the Benelux, the Rhine Valley - it's surprisingly difficult to pick out individual cities. Partly that's a quirk of the structure of local government, and how (still not over this name) the NUTS work. Partly, too, it’s because these places are so densely populated all the boxes are piled on top of one another.

4. By and large, cities are richer than their hinterlands. Compare the cities of southern Europe to the smaller, lighter boxes around them. The most extreme example is probably Athens, which looks like an economic giant, surrounded by midgets.

5. The economic divisions in certain countries look pretty bloody pronounced. Britain is an obvious example – compare the dark cluster around London with the paleness of Cornwall, or the contrast between Aberdeen and Fife. But there's a north-south divide at work in Italy, too, and parts of East Germany are still a long way behind the country's rich west and south.

6. The Nordic countries are really, really rich.

The big story, though, is that economically vibrant arc across the middle of the continent. It’s worth noting that the population density of Europe looks like this:

Image: Dbachmann/Wikimedia Commons.

 

That's probably not a coincidence.

 
 
 
 

CityMetric is now City Monitor! Come see us at our new home

City Monitor is now live in beta at citymonitor.ai.

CityMetric is now City Monitor, a name that reflects both a ramping up of our ambitions as well as our membership in a network of like-minded publications from New Statesman Media Group. Our new site is now live in beta, so please visit us there going forward. Here’s what CityMetric readers should know about this exciting transition.  

Regular CityMetric readers may have already noticed a few changes around here since the spring. CityMetric’s beloved founding editor, Jonn Elledge, has moved on to some new adventures, and a new team has formed to take the site into the future. It’s led by yours truly – I’m Sommer Mathis, the editor-in-chief of City Monitor. Hello!

My background includes having served as the founding editor of CityLab, editor-in-chief of Atlas Obscura, and editor-in-chief of DCist, a local news publication in the District of Columbia. I’ve been reporting on and writing about cities in one way or another for the past 15 years. To me, there is no more important story in the world right now than how cities are changing and adapting to an increasingly challenging global landscape. The majority of the world’s population lives in cities, and if we’re ever going to be able to tackle the most pressing issues currently facing our planet – the climate emergency, rising inequality, the Covid-19 pandemic ­­­– cities are going to have to lead the way.

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The City Monitor team is made up of some of the most experienced urban policy journalists in the world. Our managing editor is Adam Sneed, also a CityLab alum where he served as a senior associate editor. Before that he was a technology reporter at Politico. Allison Arieff is City Monitor’s senior editor. She was previously editorial director of the urban planning and policy think tank SPUR, as well as a contributing columnist for The New York Times. Staff writer Jake Blumgart most recently covered development, housing and politics for WHYY, the local public radio station in Philadelphia. And our data reporter is Alexandra Kanik, whose previous roles include data reporting for Louisville Public Media in Kentucky and PublicSource in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Our team will continue to grow in the coming weeks, and we’ll also be collaborating closely with our editorial colleagues across New Statesman Media Group. In fact, we’re launching a whole network of new publications, covering topics such as the clean energy transition, foreign direct investment, technology, banks and more. Many of these sectors will frequently overlap with our cities coverage, and a key part of our plan is make the most of the expertise that all of these newsrooms combined will bring to bear on our journalism.

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As for CityMetric, some of its archives have already been moved over to the new website, and the rest will follow not long after. If you’re looking for a favourite piece from CityMetric’s past, for a time you’ll still be able to find it here, but before long the whole archive will move over to City Monitor.

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I want to thank and congratulate Jonn Elledge on a brilliant run. Everything we do from here on out will be building on the legacy of his work, and the community that he built here at CityMetric. Cheers, Jonn!

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Sommer Mathis is editor-in-chief of City Monitor.