Small Towns /
Criteria Of Historic Small Towns






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Since "Murau ´98" and "Waidhofen ´02" a draft paper for "Retz ´05"   
Draft-list of criteria for small historic towns   

Since "Murau ´98" and "Waidhofen ´02" a draft paper for "Retz ´05"    

(Key notes of the paper presented in Retz, with a lightly supplemented list of criteria)

What has occurred since the "1. Middle European Symposium on Small Towns" Murau 1998? Which question has been answered, what became obsolete and what has emerged newly?

- Still the small towns have no lobby.

- Still they fulfil – mostly unobserved and without gratitude – their tasks as small centres in the rural regions. Many of them are district centres.

- Still not contradicted – or expressed positively - is the principle of the unbreakable unity of village, small town and landscape.

- The new developments of global networks offering the possibility of home work - independent of being in a bureau - do not seem to be a disadvantage for small towns. Local ur-banity and centralisation still is in the people´s favour.

- Every small town is an unmistakable entity by its view, its origin and history.

- Every small town has its individual strengths, weaknesses, options and threats for its future existence, development and wellbeing.

- Almost every small town is a "historic small town”. These historic small towns are an es-sential part of the "Character of Europe”, and contributing to its identity.

- The historic small towns significantly take part in cultural tourism.

- Still to be dealt with remains from the small town symposium in Waidhofen a.d. Ybbs the question, whether the historic substance of small towns are to be seen as a hindrance or an asset for their future development.

- Which are the essential characteristics all small towns, regardless of their individual differ-ences, have in common? The number of inhabitants alone never will do to define a historic small town. Hopefully in the course of this conference and its follow up we could agree in a first draft list of criteria for historic small towns (see below).

We might consider to call in the next event on small towns on the subject of "town networks”. How many networks serving small towns are existing, what are their aims and their experi-ences? Should we think of creating a "platform of exchange of experiences of small towns”?

Should we call in the next event in a country of Central and Eastern Europe” as suggested in Waidhofen 2002? (Meanwhile replaced by the "ASSET-"project).

Draft-list of criteria for small historic towns    
(Comments need to be filled in ....)

1. Structure of settlement

2. Unbroken lines and lanes of historic facades and buildings

3. Central court (mainly with a well) - significant town centre

4. Some greater church or abbey

5. Castle

6. (Relicts of) fortification

7. Urbanity

8. Number of inhabitants - Proposal for central Europe: some 2.500 up to 50.000 inhabitants. Towns smaller or bigger are accepted in this enlisting if explained reasonably.

9. Relations to their "Hinterland” and "asset” of identification at least for the local and regional people

10. Various functions of "centrality” (e.g. higher schools, hospital, house of justice, chamber of commerce, theatre, ...)


Ad 7.: We should try to define what we understand with "urban” or "urbanity”.

  • part of that criterium may be a certain mix of professions
Ad 8.: At least for Middle Europe (?) the characteristic number of inhabitants is something form 2.500 up to 50.000. If there is a reason to include also smaller or bigger towns in the category "Small Town”, this should be allowed but the specific reason(s) should be told. May be it is recommendable to differ between "small” and "middle sized” towns, the latter of more than some 25.000 inhabitants. But regardless which boundaries are chosen they should not be taken too strictly.

Ad 9.: The relations to the hinterland should be defined in the view of their number, value and essence (nature), but until now we do not – yet? - have the appropriate tools to do so. Possible categories could be: the (geographical) range (from regional to universal), the es-sence (e.g. farming, fishery, crafts, industries, mining, services). Is there a certain variety – and density - of professions that is characteristic to small towns?

Dr. Arthur Spiegler

  • ECOVAST International and Austria
  • a.spiegler@aon.at
  • Tel/Fax: 0043 1 4797835