This concentration process has resulted in the formation of large urban areas, which generate positive effects in the labor market, in the capacity for innovation, in productivity and in attracting highly qualified human capital. Variables such as annual household income, employment and others related to business innovation, such as the application for patents or the registration of designs and trademarks, grow in urban areas at a faster rate than the increase in their population, therefore that the larger areas tend to present more favorable characteristics in relation to these indicators.
Madrid and Barcelona are the urban areas that stand out in the ranking It measures innovative capacity and is also at the top in terms of socioeconomic status, urban living conditions and health. However, other less populated areas register better results in some of the variables or indicators. This is the case of Ibiza, San Sebastián and Girona that obtain excellent positions according to the indicator of socioeconomic conditions, or some intermediate-sized cities such as Toledo or Guadalajara that are placed in the aggregate indicator of health conditions above others of greater dimension, according to the data that has been possible to use in its construction.
The monograph Functional Urban Areas in Spain: economy and quality of life, presented by the BBVA Foundation, analyzes the effects of this process of population concentration in urban agglomerations. Specifically, the study, prepared by the Ivie researchers Francisco J. Goerlich and Ernest Reig, in collaboration with the technicians also from the Ivie Carlos Albert and Juan Carlos Robledo, works with the 73 Functional Urban Areas (AUF) identified in Spain by Eurostat. Under this term urban agglomerations with a minimum density of 1,500 inhabitants per km are grouped2 and a minimum population threshold of 50,000 people, as well as its areas of influence, that is, neighboring municipalities in which at least 15% of its residents work or study in the reference city.
These 73 areas are very heterogeneous, both in area and in demographic size and in municipal composition, ranging from just 2 municipalities, from AUF such as Lorca or Algeciras, to 166 in the functional urban area of Madrid. Only five of these AUFs exceed one million inhabitants (Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia, Seville and Bilbao) and the smallest, Cuenca, barely exceeds 60,000 inhabitants.
According to the authors, the AUFs promote agglomeration economies, which have positive effects on labor productivity and innovation. Specifically, the advantages derived from the concentration of population and economic activity refer to greater accessibility to the market and reduction of transport costs, greater ease in the transmission of ideas and knowledge among economic agents, and improved efficiency in the functioning of the labor market, since it is easier for companies to find the right worker, who, in turn, has a greater offer of companies that may need their services. The specialized economic literature has also observed a positive effect on wage levels.
The economies of scale that derive from the increase of demographic dimension in Functional Urban Areas affect some variables more than others. As explained in the monograph directed by Reig and Goerlich, variables related to physical space, such as the built-up area or the area dedicated to communication routes, increase more slowly than population growth. However, annual income, employment in the financial sector or in business services or patent applications grow more than proportionally with respect to the increase in population. Some negative phenomena such as crime, calculated as the number of criminal offenses, also grow more than proportionally.
According to the researchers’ calculations, doubling the population size of an urban area would mean increasing the per capita income of its residents by 2.8%. In the case of patents, doubling the population leads to an increase in patent registrations of 140%. Similarly, this increase in population by 100% would lead to an increase of the order of 110% in the population with university studies.
Functional urban areas have suffered less from the effects of the crisis on employment than the rest of the territory, although with great differences between the different AUFs. The 73 areas as a whole registered an average annual fall in employment of 2.2% between 2009 and 2013 and growth of 3.1% between 2013 and 2016, while the average of the 16 most populous AUF obtained slightly more favorable figures (2% drop and 3.3% growth). Madrid and Barcelona are among the AUFs that showed a greater capacity for resistance in the recessive phase, but in the recovery stage they were surpassed by smaller areas in which the tourism sector generally had more weight.
The monograph analyzes the quality of life enjoyed in the 73 AUFs not only through variables of an economic nature, such as income or employment, but also includes other aspects such as health conditions, citizen security, the climate , or some aspects related to accessibility, etc. In total, 35 variables are grouped into three thematic blocks and give rise to three aggregate indicators: socioeconomic conditions (level of household income, situation of the labor market, accessibility of housing, educational and professional level of the resident population, etc.), general conditions of the urban environment (incidence of crime, degree of citizen participation in electoral processes, municipal spending per inhabitant, travel times of residents to the workplace and some environmental variables) and health conditions (rates of mortality, suicide incidence, life expectancy, etc.).
The ranking prepared with the results corresponding to the first group, places Ibiza, Barcelona, San Sebastián, Madrid, Girona and Palma de Mallorca, at the head of the Spanish urban system, followed by a group of cities belonging mainly to the Northeast quadrant of the Peninsula, to which some tourist municipalities are added.
In the second group, related to the general conditions of habitability or comfort of the urban environment, the most prominent positions belong to Barcelona and Madrid, although some of the largest cities in the Spanish urban system also stand out (San Sebastián, Seville, Bilbao). and Valencia), plus two important tourist destinations (Benidorm and Palma de Mallorca) and a series of intermediate-sized cities in the Basque Country, Navarra and Catalonia. Also Granada, León, Guadalajara and Salamanca appear in good position.
Finally, in the third group, which reflects health conditions, it is more difficult to find a defined geographic pattern that characterizes the cities that obtain the best scores. The most prominent form a quite heterogeneous group, among which Toledo appears in the first places, along with Guadalajara, Madrid, Murcia, Vitoria and Albacete. Of the 16 largest cities, the city of Barcelona also appears in this group, in addition to Madrid and Murcia.
Productive specialization and range of functions in urban areas
In general, the largest urban areas show less global specialization, in terms of employment, than the smaller ones, and consequently they are more diversified from the point of view of their productive structure. Thus, in 2016 the greatest specialization was registered by Avilés –industry-, Mérida –employment in the Public Administration–, and Benidorm – tourism–.
All in all, there are substantial differences in the specialization profile of the 16 largest functional urban areas in the country. Using an index that compares the profile of the employment structure of each of these areas with that of the urban system as a whole – that is to say with the 73 areas studied – it can be known for each of them which are the ten sectors in which the contrast is more accused. There are areas in which four or five linked to manufacturing industries appear in this list of ten sectors, such as Valencia, Zaragoza, Vigo, Barcelona, Bilbao and Valladolid. On the other hand, in the areas of Madrid, Malaga, Palma de Mallorca, Santa Cruz de Tenerife and Alicante, no such sector appears as part of the aforementioned list. For example, the fact that in Vigo and Valladolid the sector that shows the greatest specialization is’ motor vehicle manufacturing ‘, while in Madrid it is’ programming, consulting and other activities related to computing’.
The specialization of urban areas can also be studied from a functional perspective. Generally, the largest metropolitan areas are home to jobs that include managerial functions in the Public Administration and political decision-making positions, as well as business staffs and specialized services aimed at companies. In the monograph the degree of specialization in higher functions of the AUF has been studied through the National Classification of Occupations. Occupational groups 1, 2, and 3 include occupations that correspond to highly qualified managerial, scientific, or professional functions or to support technicians. If the average level of specialization in these functions were 100 for the group of 73 AUFs, only this level among the 16 largest areas would be those of Madrid (115) and Barcelona (108), and to a lesser extent those of Bilbao ( 106), A Coruña (104), and Valladolid (101). If attention is restricted to the occupational subgroup formed by the highest-ranking executive positions (CNO11), then only Madrid (130), Barcelona (123), and Bilbao (102) clearly show a specialization in these types of functions.
AUFs in the knowledge economy
Along with the classifications established according to the quality of life offered by the AUF, the monograph also analyzes the position of the different areas in relation to the knowledge economy. On the one hand, it offers an overview of the human capital situation in functional Spanish urban areas. Secondly, the degree of local presence of the so-called knowledge-intensive sectors stands out. Finally, thirdly, a Synthetic Innovation Indicator is calculated at the urban area scale.
The differences in human capital between urban areas are notable and do not only respond to differences in population size, since although in the most populated areas – Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia and Seville – more than 50% of the employed population account with higher education, it is Granada, a much smaller AUF, which has the highest proportion of workers with higher education (61%), which undoubtedly has to do with the relevance of its university.
In relation to the presence of knowledge-intensive sectors in local production, the five AUFs with more than one million inhabitants represent 73% of Social Security affiliates who work in knowledge-intensive and advanced technology (R&D) sectors. , programming, radio and television broadcasting, telecommunications, etc.), although, among all, they only group 52% of the total number of members of the SS. The weight of Madrid and Barcelona in these sectors is very high, since they alone represent 61% of the employment of the Spanish urban system in these sectors, and almost 43% correspond to the Madrid area alone.
The analysis of the AUF in relation to the knowledge economy is completed with a Synthetic Innovation Indicator (ISI) that takes into account 11 indicators classified into three groups: enabling factors, business activities linked to innovation, and results of innovation. All these indicators are expressed as a proportion, generally with respect to the population, in order to avoid that the absolute size of the areas distort the interpretation. The two large functional urban areas of Barcelona and Madrid appear as the most innovative, and relatively outstanding from the rest. Among the other urban areas with advantageous positions are some with relevant R + D + i systems, such as Pamplona, San Sebastián or Bilbao, or typically university ones, such as Santiago de Compostela, Zaragoza or Salamanca, which are favored by their good position. in indicators related to human capital. However, some smaller areas also appear, such as Girona, Oviedo or Toledo, urban areas that have a very prominent place in some of the elementary indicators that have served to build the ISI, which places them in relatively high positions in the global synthetic indicator.
The ISI values, located between 0 and 1, allow us to distinguish three large groups of urban areas:
– Leading urban areas in innovation (more than 0.40): Madrid, Barcelona, Santiago de Compostela, Girona, Pamplona, Zaragoza, San Sebastián, Oviedo, Toledo, Salamanca and Bilbao.
On average, and despite the differences between these urban areas, all of them present an abundance of qualified human resources and powerful university systems, an average level of generation of intellectual property assets, although with high dispersion in this indicator, and high proportions of intensive employment in knowledge and high technology.
– Urban areas that follow innovation (between 0.20 and 0.40): Tarragona, León, Valencia, A Coruña, Granada, Santander, Logroño, Elche, Ciudad Real, Valladolid, Alicante, Málaga, Almería, Reus, Alcoy, Vigo , Murcia, Seville, Gandía, Guadalajara, Vitoria / Gasteiz, Ourense, Córdoba, Palma de Mallorca, Badajoz, Lleida, Santa Cruz de Tenerife, Jaén, Gijón, Castellón de la Plana, Albacete, Las Palmas, Lugo, Irún, Cáceres, Cádiz, Burgos, Ibiza, Pontevedra and Cuenca.
On average, these urban areas have a medium-high availability of qualified human resources and intermediate-level research systems, a medium-low level of generation of intellectual property assets, and medium-low proportions of knowledge-intensive and high-technology employment.
– Urban areas with little innovative capacity (less than 0.20): Manresa, Huelva, Ávila, Igualada, Zamora, Cartagena, Palencia, Jerez de la Frontera, Mérida, Arrecife, Ferrol, Talavera de la Reina, Marbella, Linares, Lorca , Algeciras, Sagunto, Avilés, Ponferrada, Benidorm, Puerto de la Cruz and Torrevieja.
On average, these latter urban areas have a reduced availability of qualified human resources and research systems with low impact, low level of generation of intellectual property assets, and low proportions of knowledge-intensive and high-technology employment.
Spain is not an exception to the general international trend towards urbanization of the population. This trend presents positive characteristics from an economic perspective, offering significant advantages in terms of productivity growth, innovation and overall improvement in the quality of life.
It also offers environmental risks, and may cause excessive population loss in some rural areas, although these topics deserve specialized attention beyond the content of this monograph. This work has shown that the largest Spanish urban areas – especially Madrid and Barcelona – concentrate the most important part of the knowledge economy, and present outstanding socio-economic conditions. However, there is a high degree of heterogeneity in each stratum of population dimension, and some areas of intermediate dimension, which offer a good specialization profile, begin to develop urban functions of a high rank, which means that beyond a minimum threshold of There are opportunities for economic development and improvements in quality of life that are not limited to the largest metropolitan areas.