Academic journal article Journal of Urban and Regional Analysis

Impact of the Locations of Small Towns in Mazovia (Poland) on Their Socio-Economic Structure and on Their Role in Relation to the Neighboring Rural Areas

Academic journal article Journal of Urban and Regional Analysis

Impact of the Locations of Small Towns in Mazovia (Poland) on Their Socio-Economic Structure and on Their Role in Relation to the Neighboring Rural Areas

Article excerpt

Introduction

Small towns represent an important element of the spatial and functional structure in each country. In Poland, they represent more than 70% of all urban areas and comprise roughly 20% of the population. Growth in the number of studies about small towns, particularly in geography discipline, is not therefore surprising. The main axis of research on small towns relates to demographic issues, the quality of life, and economic development. However, the bulk of the research centres on the functional structure of small centres, and the relationship between them and the surrounding rural areas (Elsasser 1998, Courtney and Errington 2000, Hinderink and Titus 2002, Duranton and Puga 2005, Heffner 2005, Rydza 2006). Studies indicate that small towns are local development centers, which focus on administrative, services and trade functions used by the inhabitants of the surrounding countryside.

Generally, the identification of the main functions of small towns is based on the analysis of the dominant sectors of the economy, or - more broadly - the role of the different socio-economic domains in the town's development. The studies of the functional structure of Polish towns by Jerczynski (1977) represent an example of the first type of research. Jerczynski (1977) distinguished ten functional types of towns by analysing employment in the three main sectors of the economy. At that time, the prevailing types were: industrial, industrial-services, as well as services-industrial. A great number of industrial towns resulted from the post-war policy of industrialisation and urban development based on industrial investment. Kachniarz (1987) divided towns of less than 20 000 inhabitants into 23 groups that varied in terms of functional structure, administrative status and number of residents. He argued that those small towns and municipal centres would primary deliver services to the local population and to agriculture, as well as developing light industry and crafts. However, later studies carried out by Szymanska and Grzelak-Kostulska (2005) failed to confirm this scenario, revealing that - since the transformation - the number of small towns performing service functions had increased, especially in central areas (Lamprecht 2008), to the detriment of industrial and agricultural towns.

The transformation has also affected the economic structure of small towns, notably in terms of numbers and types of new private enterprises that have flourished. Adopting the example of small towns in the Silesia region, Zuzanska-Zysko (2005) argued that the 1990s brought a major increase in the number of new enterprises servicing agricultural areas, while the rate of growth characterising these in specialised towns (e.g. in mining, or with a tourist function) was much weaker. As recently as in 1999, roughly half of the population of small towns in Silesia was employed in manufacturing, trade and repair, and in mining (Zuzanska-Zysko 2005). However, by 2005, employment in services in the small towns of the Silesia and Wielkopolska regions had grown to 28% (Konecka-Szydtowska et al. 2010).

The functional specialisation of small towns was also explored using principal component and discriminant analysis based on variables relating to social, economic and demographic features (Lin 1993). This was further investigated in two categories of small towns in China, with regard to their status and administrative position. The study of Welsh small and market towns revealed that their function as local poles of employment varies with regard to their location (Woods et al. 2007). Small towns that are significant administrative centres in more remote locations have the highest ratios of jobs to working residents, whereas the lowest ratios correspond to the small towns close to other larger urban localities. In line with functions, services offered and employment opportunities, six ideal-type models of small and market towns were distinguished: sub-regional centres (discharging higher-order service functions to the benefit of extensive rural areas), anchor towns (providing commercial, social and administrative functions in respect of a rural district), island towns (located close to larger urban centres but capable of maintaining their independence in terms of employment and services), doughnut towns (with quite a strong hinterland providing additional services and employment), satellite towns (close to larger urban centres and dependent on them) and niche towns (creating new and specialised attractions to take the place of previous functions that had declined). …

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