Located in the South Moravian region of the Czech Republic, the city of Brno is renowned for its architecture, cultural heritage and highly respected universities.
Brno is capital of the historic land of Moravia and the political hub of the region. It boasts a large urban population of 400,000 people, making it the country’s second biggest city and one of the larger cities in the EU.
However, over the past 15 years, the reach of Brno’s population has also extended beyond its thriving urban centre. The number of citizens living in the metropolitan and rural areas surrounding the city has increased rapidly, with around 720,000 people now living in Brno and its suburban surrounds.
In total, around 180 local municipalities have sprung up across the surrounding region, with the two largest towns containing around 20,000 inhabitants each and over 40% of the smaller municipalities made up of just 500 to 1,000 residents.
While this has improved the quality of life for many people, it has also brought several challenges for the city’s local government, including how to maintain close links and cooperation between the city and its surrounding areas, support the movement of people into and out of the city, and ensure effective services and good quality of life for everyone.
Frantisek Kubes, Head of the Strategic Development and Cooperation Department at the Brno City Municipality, explains that this increasing pattern of suburbanisation in Brno has mostly been due to people looking for a better quality of life for themselves and their families. In the main, they are seeking larger, more affordable family homes.
“People are moving out of the city to residential suburbs in search of more open green spaces and gardens, lower costs in housing and less populated areas to bring up their children,” says Kubes, who is also Co-Chair of the Eurocities Working Group on Metropolitan Areas.
“This has meant that villages in our wider metropolitan area have increased in some cases by two to three times in terms of population, while many more small municipalities have also grown up across the region. For us, the challenge has been how to maintain the hugely important links between the city and the population across our wider territory.
“For instance, how do we provide effective transport links for people travelling to and from the city for their jobs? Or how do we make sure people moving out of the city have access to core services, such as social services and education? We realised we needed to take action.”
An integrated strategy for change
To ensure links between the city and its surrounding areas are maintained, the Brno city government has developed an integrated strategy focused on the whole metropolitan area, providing equal opportunities for all local citizens.
The comprehensive initiative has been developed in partnership with the surrounding municipalities as well as local partners in the private and community sectors.
Over €300 million in EU funding has been provided, mainly through the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) and Cohesion Fund (CF), via the EU’s Integrated Territorial Investments (ITIs) tool.
The main focus of the strategy has been to provide the balanced development of the entire metropolitan area, not just the core city. This is being achieved by improving transport links and providing sustainable mobility, making it straightforward for people to commute in and out of the city and to move around the city itself more easily.
Developing these transport connections is also allowing people in the city to travel to the large retail centres located in suburban areas.
There have been major investments in public transport, with several new regional transport terminals created across the territory, allowing people to commute directly to the city. Tram lines in Brno city have been extended, connecting with local train routes through a single ticketing system that allows ease of travel.
With the strategy also focusing on boosting social services and ensuring social prosperity, a wide range of other projects have been developed, including improved waste management and social housing. Cycling paths have been built through municipalities that connect to the city, allowing people to commute to work or use them for leisure activities, while pedestrian routes and parks have also been developed.
“As the population surrounding our city has expanded, we have become more aware of the importance of ensuring close links between the city and our surrounding locations,” says Frantisek Kubes.
“Strong cooperation with our metropolitan and rural areas is crucial for tackling health, education and wealth disparities that can develop over time, and for ensuring we can improve services while also being aware of the environment and our goals to achieve climate neutrality. “
“In many smaller municipalities, for example, people were concerned that they didn’t have sufficient access to childcare, health services and education facilities, along with access to appropriate housing.
“Our integrated strategy has enabled us to identify the strengths and weaknesses of our metropolitan area and to introduce actions to improve people’s lives. These have included better inter-connectivity and improving public services, including transport and social services.”
A good example of the work being undertaken is an initiative that extended the tramline in the city of Brno to its university hospital, next to one of the city’s university campuses. This tramline has also been connected to the integrated transport systems across the region, meaning people throughout the area can access key health and education services.
“This work really reflected the goals of the whole project,” adds Kubes, “giving students and the wider population access to important services, while also ensuring their journeys are straightforward and environmentally friendly.”
Integrated Territorial Investment
For the local government of Brno, the integrated strategy is just the latest stage in a series of initiatives it has been developing for several years.
“We actually started this work back in 2008,” says Kubes, “when we decided to work with the South Moravian region on the first steps to define how the metropolitan area should be developed in terms of spatial planning and the types of activities that should be developed, including housing, tourism and nature protected areas.
“When we became aware of the EU regulation introducing the Integrated Territorial Investment, we realised it would be perfect for stimulating metropolitan cooperation and governance activities across our territory.”
Thanks to EU support and investment, the city government have been able to develop and implement its strategy over several years, but it has not been an easy path to navigate.
“In the beginning, we faced several challenges,” explains Kubes. “The first of these was convincing local managing authorities that EU funding was what we needed to tackle the issues we faced, and the second was to deal with the enormous, number of municipalities that we have, with approximately 180 mayors and 180 town halls, and self-governing bodies.
“This made it very difficult to organise an annual meeting for all of them, which is why we decided to work with the local governments of larger regions, who then kept the leadership of small municipalities informed of what was happening. This proved a very effective way of uniting everyone and pushing the project forward.”
No city is an island
Despite the difficulties that have been faced, the impact of the integrated strategy has been significant, leading to enhanced political cooperation, a long-term common vision, and improved quality of life for people in the city and the surrounding areas.
“The core focus of the project was to improve transport links, as this what truly connects people,” Kubes makes clear. “But it was not just about mobility, we also focused on projects that made a lasting improvement to people’s lives, such as people affected by long term unemployment, or people living with disabilities.”
“The project has been really successful and we continue to review and develop our actions to see how we can further improve cooperation and links between the city and our metropolitan and rural areas in the future.”
Kubes believes the process set up by Brno is a model that can be replicated between other cities and surrounding municipalities in the Czech Republic and across Europe. “We have regular exchanges with other Czech cities,” he explains, “where we are sharing both our successes and failures.”
“Every time Czech cities organise a meeting, we invite managing authorities to these gatherings to share their experiences and ideas for cooperation. I would suggest these intra national exchanges would also be very effective for other countries. This is a constant learning process that can be copied throughout the EU.”
Recognition at national and EU level
Looking ahead, the city of Brno hopes that its integrated strategy and the many projects it has implemented will lead to increased recognition of the importance of metropolitan areas at national and European level.
“Thanks to the EU support we received, we were able to work at ground level with our municipalities, which was where all the other success stemmed from,” says Kubes.
“Since then, our national government has introduced a national regional development strategy, identifying metropolitan areas as a key objective. That was an important shift in thinking and we hope it leads to more investment in projects between cities and municipalities across our country.”
He added: “For me, the next stage is to see this integrated strategy not as an intervention strategy, but as a governance strategy for the whole metropolitan area.
“Cities and our hinterlands are not isolated islands, we are interconnected and depend on each other, so our integration is essential if we are to build a prosperous future for our citizens.”
The integrated strategy being carried out in Brno is part of a series of case studies that feature in the Connecting Territories publication, developed by Eurocities and its members.
The publication demonstrates that cooperation between cities and their surrounding metropolitan and rural areas is crucial to tackle inequalities and achieve the objectives of the European Green Deal. As the urban-rural debate gathers strength at both EU and local level, the publication also shows that EU funding is crucial for these complex initiatives.