Urban areas: Europe

In Europe, the urban population increased steadily throughout the 1960s and 1970s and there was also a massive outflow from the inner cities to the suburbs. Since the 1970s, the trend has been a continued 'sprawling' of cities due to expanding infrastructure, higher household income, diminishing size and increasing number of households, and demographic ageing. Between 1980 and 1995, the urban population in Western Europe increased by 9 per cent (United Nations Population Division 2001) but the number of households in the area increased by 19 per cent (EEA 2000).

Urban population (percentage of total): Europe

Europe's population is currently 76 per cent urbanized, a figure which is expected to stabilize at 82 per cent

Source: United Nations Population Division 2001

The level of urbanization in Europe is currently 74.6 per cent with an expected annual growth of 0.3 per cent per year between 2000 and 2015 (UNCHS 2001a). It is expected that Europe will stabilize at an urbanization level of about 82 per cent. Currently, onehalf of the population of Europe lives in small towns of 1 000-50 000 people, one-quarter in medium-sized towns of 50 000-250 000 people and one-quarter in cities of more than 250 000 people (UNCHS 2001b). Further urbanization in Europe is not expected to change this pattern significantly.

The problems of urban development and its impact on the environment have been challenging for European policy-makers. Compounding the problem in CEE and NIS countries is the fact that, in the past ten years, national governments have transferred a wide array of urban (environmental) responsibilities to local or regional authorities but have not provided adequate resources to fulfil these responsibilities. Local authorities all over Europe have begun to implement Local Agendas 21 and local Habitat Agendas; a significant number have adopted the Charter of European Cities and Towns, which emphasizes integrated approaches towards sustainability and better collaboration between cities. A review of the implementation of the Habitat Agenda shows that progress has been made in Europe in improving the efficiency of water use through advanced technological processes and the establishment of water resource management plans and policies (UNCHS 2001c). Efforts have also been made to reduce air and water pollution through reductions and prevention of discharges of the most polluting and hazardous substances, as well as reuse and recycling incentives. However, increased air pollution generated by motor vehicles remains a strong concern. In Eastern Europe, the use of obsolete communal heating systems and coal burning is a major cause of pollution problems. Two other key issues in Europe are noise pollution and solid waste.