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.


What's actually in the UK government’s bailout package for Transport for London?

Wood Green Underground station, north London. Image: Getty.

On 14 May, hours before London’s transport authority ran out of money, the British government agreed to a financial rescue package. Many details of that bailout – its size, the fact it was roughly two-thirds cash and one-third loan, many conditions attached – have been known about for weeks. 

But the information was filtered through spokespeople, because the exact terms of the deal had not been published. This was clearly a source of frustration for London’s mayor Sadiq Khan, who stood to take the political heat for some of the ensuing cuts (to free travel for the old or young, say), but had no way of backing up his contention that the British government made him do it.

That changed Tuesday when Transport for London published this month's board papers, which include a copy of the letter in which transport secretary Grant Shapps sets out the exact terms of the bailout deal. You can read the whole thing here, if you’re so minded, but here are the three big things revealed in the new disclosure.

Firstly, there’s some flexibility in the size of the deal. The bailout was reported to be worth £1.6 billion, significantly less than the £1.9 billion that TfL wanted. In his letter, Shapps spells it out: “To the extent that the actual funding shortfall is greater or lesser than £1.6bn then the amount of Extraordinary Grant and TfL borrowing will increase pro rata, up to a maximum of £1.9bn in aggregate or reduce pro rata accordingly”. 

To put that in English, London’s transport network will not be grinding to a halt because the government didn’t believe TfL about how much money it would need. Up to a point, the money will be available without further negotiations.

The second big takeaway from these board papers is that negotiations will be going on anyway. This bail out is meant to keep TfL rolling until 17 October; but because the agency gets around three-quarters of its revenues from fares, and because the pandemic means fares are likely to be depressed for the foreseeable future, it’s not clear what is meant to happen after that. Social distancing, the board papers note, means that the network will only be able to handle 13 to 20% of normal passenger numbers, even when every service is running.

Shapps’ letter doesn’t answer this question, but it does at least give a sense of when an answer may be forthcoming. It promises “an immediate and broad ranging government-led review of TfL’s future financial position and future financial structure”, which will publish detailed recommendations by the end of August. That will take in fares, operating efficiencies, capital expenditure, “the current fiscal devolution arrangements” – basically, everything. 

The third thing we leaned from that letter is that, to the first approximation, every change to London’s transport policy that is now being rushed through was an explicit condition of this deal. Segregated cycle lanes, pavement extensions and road closures? All in there. So are the suspension of free travel for people under 18, or free peak-hours travel for those over 60. So are increases in the level of the congestion charge.

Many of these changes may be unpopular, but we now know they are not being embraced by London’s mayor entirely on their own merit: They’re being pushed by the Department of Transport as a condition of receiving the bailout. No wonder Khan was miffed that the latter hadn’t been published.

Jonn Elledge was founding editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and on Facebook as JonnElledgeWrites.