The indicator on functional urban areas is defined as the number of cities with more than 50,000 inhabitants within 60 minutes car travel time from each region. In ESPON TeMo and in ESPON TRACC this indicator is called Availability of urban functions, while in ESPON 1.1.1 the indicator was defined in a similar manner as the number of functional urban areas (FUAs) overlapping at each municipality.
This indicator is a morphological, or structural, indicator, based on the assumption that people honor a situation with a freedom of choice to choose between different cities to travel to for various activities (work, leisure, shopping, administrative affairs etc.). Not all of such urban functions can and need to be offered in small towns and villages, so access to cities becomes an important asset. The more cities that are within reach from a certain location, i.e. the more FUAs overlapping, the higher the freedom of choice is. The indicator is a function both of the quality and connectivity of the road network, and of the location of cities across the territory. Improvements to the road network, as well as growing cities will lead to increases in indicator performance; however, shrinking cities may also lead to decreases in the indicator performance.
This indicator highlights the agglomerated areas in Europe. Accessibility is highest in the Ruhr area (Germany), England, Paris, in the Benelux countries and in Northern Italy. Some capital city regions in other countries (for instance, Stockholm, Madrid, Budapest or Athens) also stand out, so as other selected regions and spatial city networks such as Oslo-Gothenburg-Malmö-Copenhagen, Barcelona-Valencia-Murcia, Lyon, the Liverpool-Manchester-Sheffield area, Saxonian city triangle (Halle-Leipzig-Dresden), Naples, Upper Silesia with city systems. From most locations in Western and Central Europe, at least one regional city can be reached by car within 60 minutes, from many places even more than ten. In Eastern Europe, the freedom of choice is significantly lower since mostly only one or two cities are within reach. Locations from where only one city can be reached provide basic urban services. Usually, people from there do not have any option to go to one or the other cities to enjoy certain facilities, but they are bound to just one closest city. Locations from where more than one city can be reached, offer options to visit different cities offering a wider range of services, i.e. these locations provide more freedom of choice and thus more opportunities.
What the BSR NUTS-3 level results hides, becomes obvious when looking at grid results: From most locations in the Nordic countries and in the Baltic States, no single one city can be reached within 60 minutes. The situation in Denmark, German part of the BSR, and Poland is somewhat better, with areas of basic and good availability of urban functions, opposed to areas with no availability. This indicator thus pretty much reflects the Urban-Rural-Divide in the BSR.
Changes in the indicator performance can occur in both directions, i.e. increases (i.e. improvements to the freedom of choice) as well as decreases (i.e. restricting the freedom of choice). Improvements to the road networks so as population growth of cities may lead to better access to cities, while population decline may results in cities dropping the 50,000 threshold, and thus may lead to indicator decreases.