GaWC Research Bulletin 425

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Warsaw Metropolitan Region: Alternative Development Perspective

E. Korcelli-Olejniczak*


In this article questions are posed concerning spatial structure of the region of Warsaw and its development trends. These are presented against recent conceptual approaches to the study of metropolitan regions. Alternative hypotheses are discussed, related to continuing spatial polarization, emergence of polycentric urban patterns, as well as growing functional interdependence between the urban and the predominantly rural areas within the region. This is placed in the context of public policy objectives concerning both territorial cohesion and socio-economic growth; the latter hidden under the region’s competitiveness label. In the discussion, empirical findings are referred to, based on comparative analysis of location behavior of selected firms in the category of advanced services. It is argued that in projecting the region’s development path into the future, the concept of the urban – rural region is of particular relevance. Such an approach may also be adopted for spatial policy use.

Key words: metropolitan region, urban – rural region, the region of Warsaw, advanced service sector, territorial cohesion


Urban regions, similarly to national settlement systems of which are a part, may be evaluated according to various indicators related to cohesion, competitiveness and environmental sustainability levels (see: ESPON 1.1.1, 2004). Among contemporary spatial development issues, the cohesion versus competitiveness dilemma constitutes one of the standard points of reference. It pertains to a broad spectrum of scale, from sub-regional to global, and is interpreted in both positive and normative terms. There is also a tendency to reconcile these two, traditionally regarded as mutually conflicting policy objectives (see: ESPON 3.2, 2006). This can be achieved by selecting alternative priorities at successive development phases (A. Benz et al., 2004), or by attaching cohesion and competitiveness related goals to different territorial dimensions.

The latter approach is adopted in Poland’s Spatial Development Concept (KPZK, 2012). According to this document international competitiveness - one of the strategic goals of spatial development at the national level – can be enhanced by strengthening the metropolitan centers by interlinking them into a functionally integrated network. Conversely, the goal of territorial cohesion is conceived in terms of facilitating participation in the development processes by inhabitants of various parts of the country. Cohesion oriented policy measures should focus on (a) peripheral regions, (b) rural areas and subregional centers situated within zones of influence of the major cities, and (c) selected areas suffering from poor accessibility, deficits in the sphere of public services, as well as from social degradation. In the present paper the emphasis is put on the second among the three above identified dimensions. It is namely claimed that reconciliation between cohesion and competitiveness, seen as national territorial development objectives can, and should primarily be sought at the level of metropolitan regions.

When spatial patterns of socioeconomic change, the ones observed during the last two decades, are looked at from the national perspective, it is the capital city of Warsaw, with its overall dynamics that is regarded as main carrier of transformation and development processes. This has been confirmed by a number of research studies (see, for example: ESPON 1.1.1, 2004; Nordea Metrox, 2008, P. Śleszyński, 2007), which document the role of Warsaw as by far the most important center among Polish cities with respect to advanced, specialized functions, including business control and knowledge – based activities, in addition to public administration and high-ranking public services.

Also the Mazowieckie voivodship - the region of Warsaw (5.3 million inhabitants, out of which 1.7 million is accounted for by the city of Warsaw, and 1.5 million by its metropolitan ring) ranks the first among Poland’s administrative regions in most of major socio-economic development indicators. At the same time, however, that region is characterized by the largest disparities between its urban core and the remaining areas. It is a plausible assumption that the structural weakness of the hinterland has an adverse impact upon Warsaw’s image, and hence upon its overall positioning among European metropolitan cities.

In this context some research, as well as policy – relevant questions can be posed. One of them pertains to prospects and conditions for the growth of cohesion within the region of Warsaw – its functional integration and internal interdependence which are diagnostic features of developed metropolitan regions. Another question concerns the impact such a trend could have on the external competitive position of both the capital city, and the region as a whole. The importance of city-region relations, including regional co-operation for economic growth at the metropolitan scale was emphasized by L.S. Bourne (1999), among other authors.

When addressing these questions it is appropriate to refer to the concept of metropolitan region and its recent developments; these are outlined in the section below. Generalizations concerning the spatial structure of the region, those arrived at in selected earlier studies are overviewed in section three. Section four presents results of a comparative enquiry, conducted by the author, focusing on location behavior of Warsaw – based, and the hinterland – based firms representing the category of advanced services. The final section contains a discussion, against the empirical material presented, on conceivable future trends, including some evaluation of the officially adopted regional development strategy, with its emphasis on polycentric development patterns.

Metropolitan regions in evolution

Since its origins which are traced back to the work of N.B.S. Gras (1922) and R.D. McKenzie (1933), the concept of the metropolitan region has undergone an evolution, marked in the course of the following decades by periods of development, retreat, and rediscovery. Its emergence was related to the growing role of the metropolis which, in the words of B.J.L. Berry and F. Horton (1970, p. 257): “by 1950 had come to dominate the social and economic organization of a technologically advanced society”.

In a study that provided the benchmark for subsequent analyses of the structure of metropolitan regions, D.J. Bogue (1949) identified their several basic dimensions. These included the profiles of population distribution, as well as of intensity of economic activities related to the distance from the metropolitan center; presence of subdominant centers, and, differentiation of spatial patterns by type of sector – local, subdominant and inter-metropolitan. Metropolitan regional dominance was interpreted by Bogue in terms of “control through interdependence” - a kind of symbiotic relationship, one in which the metropolis grows and thrives on the basis of functions which it provides for its hinterland. Such functions comprise both a wide spectrum of higher order service activities, as well as collection, shipment and processing of primary goods produced within the hinterland area. As they represented “a standard form of social organization”, the metropolitan regions were assumed to cover the entire national territory (D.J. Bogue, 1949, p. 13).

The rule of assigning each territorial unit to one of a priori selected metropolitan centers was questioned by O.D. Duncan et al. (1960, pp. 248 - 251), who indicated the existence of often overlapping and discontinuous patterns of city – hinterland connections, which may be: “too complex to be presented on a single map”. This pointed out to the relative nature of metropolitan regional dominance. Actually, O.D. Duncan et al. identified several types of metropolitan centers, according to the character of their regional relationships.

In the later periods the focus of research on metropolization processes in space shifted from regional to local scale. This reflected the growing role of suburbanization phenomena and the increase in the range of commuting to central cities from the surrounding zones. Metropolitan areas were defined as statistical units, while the concept of metropolitan region became overshadowed, and to some extent replaced by more recent notions, in particular those of urban field (J.Friedmann, J. Miller, 1965) and daily urban systems (B.J.L. Berry, 1973), as well as that of functional urban regions (P. Hall, 1973). According to the latter concepts, along with improvements in transportation and the raising spatial mobility of the population, the expanding daily commuting fields tend to coalesce with the extent of urban - metropolitan hinterlands, as determined by the range of commodity, information, and migration flows.

Parallel to these trends, the progressing integration of urban systems was expressed by increasing interaction and interdependence within the networks of metropolitan cities at both national and international level (see: A. Pred, 1975; K. Dziewoński, 1975; J. Friedmann, 1986). This implied a weakening of their regional linkages, at least in relative terms. When quoting M. Batty (2008, p. 5): “in an increasingly globalized world large cities seemed, indeed are often disconnected from their local hinterlands, and even the nations that contained them no longer seemed relevant to their functioning”. The reverse side of such a change in relations between metropolis and region is the decreasing dependence of hinterland zones upon metropolitan centers – their gradual reorientation towards supra-regional networks, by-passing the hierarchical mode of spatial organization.

The revival of the idea of metropolitan regions as important components of settlement systems, compatible with the development of space economy, is connected with recent policy-relevant approaches to spatial organization, in particular the concepts of EMR – the European Metropolitan Regions (see: J. Aring, 2009), and of RUR – the Rural – Urban Regions (see: A. Piorr, J.Ravetz, I. Tosics, 2011).

In the EMR concept it is assumed that specialized functions of metropolitan rank are shared between the main urban center and other parts of the region. In the case of polycentric regions deconcentration of economic activities of high range allows to strengthen the secondary urban nodes. This leads towards formation of regional urban systems with largely non-hierarchical internal linkage patterns. It also implies a degree of balance in functional relations within the region. Such structures are interpreted as resilient and adaptive, supportive of innovation diffusion and contributing to the region’s general competitiveness.

The concept of rural – urban regions (metropolitan regions of mono- and polycentric structure are among the morphological types identified) explicitly extends the regional boundaries beyond the range of intense daily interaction of the main center (or centers), so as to involve the rural hinterland zone, along with the urban and the peri-urban areas. Its functional role within the region, based to a large extent upon the environmental resources, is defined in reference to the idea of “urban - rural partnership”, postulated in the ESDP - European Spatial Development Perspective (1999). The RUR concept focuses on the growing importance of ecological values among factors determining the location of both residences and work places, and thus shaping the contemporary spatial patterns of human settlement.

It is indicated in this brief overview that the concept of the metropolitan region, the latter defined as a nodal region containing a large city together with a broad, contiguous zone dominated by the city’s economic and social functions, has evolved along with the changing course of contemporary urbanization processes. Once displaced to some degree by other notions, referring mainly to the extent of metropolitan daily mobility patterns, it has reemerged within the framework of subsequent, spatial policy – related approaches to the study of urban development.

Metropolitan regions, along with metropolitan cities and metropolitan areas can be considered among basic spatial manifestations and territorial dimensions of metropolization processes that appeared early in 20th century in advanced economies of North America, and then Western Europe as a consequence of technological progress, and the ensuing economic and social change. Under globalization conditions they have spread, at accelerated rate to other world regions, including Central and Eastern Europe. In this process, basically characterized by a sort of phase shift - the catch-up development, the metropolitan region, when interpreted in terms of its spatial structure, may be seen to bifurcate from the original, classical form into several, parallel regional types (see: E. Korcelli-Olejniczak, 2012).

The case of the region of Warsaw, on which this paper is focused serves to indicate, what characteristics the spatial structure of a large city-region may assume during the socio-economic transformation process – the advent and development of market economy, and what further trends are likely to prevail in this respect. Do they point towards progressing polarization, i.e. increasing disparities, with a growing dominance of the main urban center which tends to intercept specialized functions located in other towns within the region? Or, can factors of innovation diffusion – led inter-regional deconcentration be identified that bring about a revival of sub-regional centers, so that the spatial structure of the region assumes a more or less polycentric form, in concordance with territorial cohesion rules? Finally, would functional specialization of individual subregions, based upon endogenous factors, including environmental resources, assure intra-regional complementarity, and a degree of cohesion under prevalence of spatial concentration forces?

The region of Warsaw as a metropolitan region in the making

Recognition of the role played by metropolization processes in shaping settlement patterns in Poland is basically the experience of the last two decades. Nonetheless, studies on city – hinterland relations, and on the formation of urban regions, have a longer tradition. A. Wróbel (1960), in a classical study on the voivodship of Warsaw as a nodal economic region, identified the region’s internal hierarchical structure by referring to, among others, central place functions. P. Eberhardt (1970), who analyzed spatial range of influence of the major cities with respect to such spatial linkages as migration flows and students’ enrollment fields, found out that in the case of Warsaw that range covered most of the eastern, as well as of the central part of Poland.

While spatial population concentration, both of the total and the urban population has been a general trend in Poland since the post-Second World War period (A. Gawryszewski, 2005), its impact upon settlement structure on a regional scale, and the city – region relations varied over time, reflecting shifts in sectoral and spatial policies at the state level. During the 1960s the so-called deglomeration policies, i.e. large-city growth limitation policies, favored middle-sized cities, including those, situated in hinterland zones of large urban centers, for industrial locations (K. Dziewoński et al., 1977). These were often branch, or subsidiary plants of industrial establishments located in the major cities. During the 1970s state investments in industry, housing and transportation focused mainly on large urban agglomerations; this in turn generated a rapid expansion of both intensity and spatial range of commuting-to-work (see: K. Dziewoński and P. Korcelli, 1981). In the early 1990s, the first phase of the systemic transformation brought about a weakening of city-hinterland linkages as a consequence of industrial restructuring together with a contraction of commuting fields. The city – region relations were also influenced by the administrative reform of 1999, which involved a reduction in the number of voivodships – the upper level administrative units from 49 to 16. This led to strengthening of the position of the major cities – new voivodship capitals vis-à-vis subregional centers. At the same time, it provided some preconditions for integration, or reintegration of individual sub-spaces within the larger regions.

Studies conducted during the last two decades have focused on the role of large cities – metropolitan centers – in the transformation of national space economy, their changing functional profiles and the built-up environment, as well as on physical expansion of metropolitan areas (see: B. Jałowiecki, 1999; J. Parysek, 2005; T. Markowski, T. Marszał, 2006; S. Liszewski, 2010; T. Czyż, 2011a). The division into metropolitan and nonmetropolitan areas is considered to be the main dimension of contemporary territorial differentiation with respect to basic socioeconomic indicators (B. Domański, 2008), although an alternative axis, one separating metropolitan regions from inter-metropolitan regions, is also referred to (K. Heffner, 2012). Such regions (or macroregions according to some authors) are normally identified with the new administrative regions – the NUTS-2 level units.

With respect to the region of Warsaw two development trends are generally emphasized, namely a dynamic suburbanization in the metropolitan ring, with typical features of urban sprawl (M. Gutry-Korycka, 2005; A. Lisowski, 2010), and accumulation of phenomena characteristic of the metropolitan shadow zones in areas situated further out from the city, though still within the sphere of its dominant influence. It has been noted that some specialized service, as well as production activities, once carried on in smaller urban places situated within the region, tend to move their location to the metropolitan area (see, for example: S. Lisowski, 2000). This trend is accompanied by migration of skilled labor, and, as a consequence, contributes to an increase of intraregional disparities in income and unemployment levels, as well as in age composition of the population.

These observations were corroborated by G. Gorzelak and M. Smętkowski , 2005; see also:G. Gorzelak, 2007; M. Smętkowski, 2007; in a systematic study based on empirical data for the regions of Warsaw, Poznań and Gdańsk. While providing evidence for gravitation of the hinterland zones towards the metropolitan centers, in particular within the domain of public services (in the sphere of health, culture, education), as well as migratory movements, the authors emphasize the generally unbalanced character of the city – region relations. Positive interaction, i.e. the spread effects were found to be restricted mainly to internal zones of the regions, basically corresponding to the extent of metropolitan areas, i.e. daily urban systems. In the remaining parts, especially the so-called intermediate zones, functional city-oriented linkages were dominated by the backwash effects. They were also, to some degree characterized by decreasing intensity. In general, when seen from the perspective of the metropolitan centers, the city – region interaction is interpreted as of diminishing importance relative to the growing role of inter-city linkages at both the national and international level.

In the rural parts of metropolitan hinterlands the backwash effects are manifested first of all by negative demographic trends due mainly to net migration losses, and to advanced population ageing. Such trends predominate throughout the major part of the Warsaw region beyond the metropolitan ring, except for smaller islands characterized by population growth, situated around subregional urban centers. The phenomenon of demographic decline is especially pronounced in the peripheral belt, along the borders with the neighboring administrative regions (A. Rosner, 2011). This pattern corresponds with the distribution of rural municipalities featuring below-average level of educational attainment of the resident population, as well as an overall low development level, when measured by a number of indicators reflecting economic activity and life quality (J. Bański, 2011).

While differentiation between metropolitan areas, the intermediate, and the peripheral zones represents a general feature of the spatial structure of metropolitan regions, there are a number of characteristics specific to the individual regions. These reflect to some degree the spatial variations in socioeconomic conditions, as well as in settlement patterns that appear at the macroregional level. Thus, the region of Warsaw, when confronted with Poland’s other major metropolitan regions, such as those of Poznań, Cracow and Gdańsk, exhibits a stronger internal polarization, with a pronounced metropolitan shadow effect. As comparative studies carried out at the European scale (ESPON FOCI, 2010; see also: M. Smętkowski, 2010) indicate, such characteristics, together with an increasing gradient of socioeconomic city - region disparities, are distinctive of capital city regions of the new EU member countries. According to the project report mentioned, these disparities are positively associated with the overall rate of economic growth, as well as with significant differences in the structure of economic activities between the metropolis and the surrounding region. As it is concluded (ESPON 2013, 2010), the rapidly developing metropolitan areas, in particular those situated in predominantly rural, agricultural regions tend to drain resources from their broader hinterlands. In the light of the report, the region of Warsaw represents an exemplary case of such kind of spatial relationships.

These results are in fact in line with some assumptions and expectations earlier referred to (see: A. Benz et al., 2004) concerning patterns and policies of territorial cohesion within the EU. Against these findings it should be noted that the growing intraregional polarization, while perhaps inevitable in a short term, may not be accepted as optimal in a more distant perspective. This position calls for continuation and extension of studies on location patterns of economic activity and functional linkages within the region. One such attempt, pertaining to service sector firms, is presented below.

A case study on location factors and spatial activity range of advanced service sector firms

It is generally recognized (see: Z. Chojnicki, 1988; T. Czyż, 2011b) that functional linkages comprise a major dimension of spatial structure of a territorial system; moreover, such linkages constitute the determining factor of the system’s performance. For the purpose of the present analysis the structure of the Warsaw metropolitan region (its extent is here assumed to correspond to Mazowieckie voivodship), which may be considered as a territorial system of regional level, is looked at via location patterns and activity range of firms that are grouped within the category of advanced services. These research questions seem to relate to significant aspects of the region’s spatial structure.

The main objective of the study (see: E. Korcelli-Olejniczak, 2010 for a more detailed account) is to identify spatial relations between the city of Warsaw and its surrounding region, as expressed in terms of a major category of urban functions (see: P. Hall, K. Pain, 2006). More specifically, a question is posed, whether the observed location behavior of firms allows one to speculate on a relative equilibrium to appear in the city – hinterland relations. In designing the conceptual framework reference is made to the concept of European Metropolitan Regions (MKRO, 2006) which puts an emphasis on the role of metropolitan hinterland – its support in the region’s strive for innovativeness, and hence its competitiveness (R. Domański, 2000). This aspect of balancing the functional positions of city and the region seems to be of particular importance in the context of global urban competition. The challenge can be met through development of non-hierarchical network relations within the metropolitan region - between urban places differing in size, as well as in functional profile.

The analysis is based on the micro-level approach; i.e. it is presumed that the decisive factor in the formation of the location patterns of enterprises is expressed by the sum of single, individual choices and solutions. The data used are derived from a special survey which covered a set of 600 randomly selected firms, including three hundred units from the city of Warsaw, and the remaining 300 firms from other parts of the region. This was a computer aided telephone interview survey based on a questionnaire designed by the author of the present study. The survey comprised a part of a broader inquiry concerning the region of Warsaw, carried out in 2009 for the purpose of EU 6th Framework PLUREL project on Peri-urban Land Use Relationships. For firms with city of Warsaw location the survey success rate was approximately 80 percent (nearly 370 firms were initially approached); for those located in other municipalities it was 60 percent (contacts were made to about 600 firms).

Altogether, firms located in 106 out of the total of 314 municipalities of the Mazowieckie voivodship were represented in the sample (see: Figure 1). There were ten kinds of activities chosen among those in the advanced services category, namely: private higher education, information technology, sports and recreation, transportation and logistics, legal services, investment and other business consultancy, advertising, market and public opinion research, telecommunication services, as well as other selected services, including the ones performed by language schools and travel agencies.

Figure 1:

At the first stage of the investigation five indicators were used in order to identify specific characteristics of the firms located in the region - outside of the capital city, as opposed to the Warsaw – based enterprises. The measures in question pertained to structure and market situation of firms, namely: the number of employees, annual turnover value, the market range (according to origin of the customers), location of cooperating firms, and the general level of firms’ interaction. While small and medium firms – with less than 50 employees - represented a clear majority among all the enterprises interviewed, their share was somewhat higher in the case of the city of Warsaw. The region – based firms were also larger on the average with respect to the annual turnover value.

The spatial range of firms’ activity is to a considerable degree related to their territorial positioning within the region. In the case of all the Warsaw – based, and approximately one half of the hinterland – based enterprises included in the survey, the services were provided in the region’s core city. However, firms of the latter group operated mainly in peri-urban and rural areas, as well as in small and medium sized towns of the Mazovia region. For firms located in Warsaw the regional hinterland constituted a part of their market area in two out of three cases. Among these enterprises a majority (some 60 percent) operated in other regions (i. e. voivodships) as well; this was less frequently true for the hinterland – based firms, more than 50 percent of which concentrated their activity within the region.

In general terms, with respect to the Warsaw – based firms a rather straightforward, distance-decay relationship can be observed, with a decreasing number of units reporting the city, the metropolitan area, the region, and other regions as falling within their market range. The pattern was somewhat different for the firms situated in other municipalities in the region; namely, their market linkages were contained primarily within the Mazowieckie voivodship, though still about 50 percent of all enterprises indicated also the city of Warsaw, the metropolitan area, and/or the other regions (voivodships), respectively (see: Figure 2).

Figure 2: Range of interaction of Warsaw-based and region-based firms

The pattern of inter-firm cooperative linkages broadly resembled that of the range of the firms’ market areas. For Warsaw – based enterprises the local, i.e. intra-city links were prevailing, which may seem obvious due to the large concentration of firms in the respective category and a high density of potential business contacts. Similarly, the hinterland – based firms were most frequently entering into cooperation with other enterprises located in the Mazovia region. Interestingly enough, the presence of inter-firm linkages was reported by a higher share of firms (60 to 42 percent) with out-of Warsaw location. At the same time, among all firms surveyed those located in the regional hinterland were more often admitting to maintain cooperative business contacts at an international level.

The second stage of analysis aimed at identification of specific characteristics of those firms that have changed their location over the last several years. Their share among the total number of firms covered in the survey amounted to 40 percent. This proportion was in fact equal for the Warsaw – based and the hinterland – based units. Location change was observed relatively often among the firms which reported their market range to be predominantly local and regional. In the case of Warsaw – based firms the moves were predominantly contained within administrative limits of the city, while in the hinterland they typically involved firms’ relocation from one urban place to another within the region. There were more moves out of Warsaw than into the city. The former included both short – distance location shifts within the metropolitan area, as well as relocations towards more distant, small and middle-sized urban centers in the region’s hinterland zones.

In the third part of the study factors responsible for location and relocation decisions were looked into. Although the general propensity to change the location was similar for the Warsaw – based and the hinterland – based firms, the decisions to locate and relocate were attributed to a different mix of factors within the two groups of enterprises (see: Table 1). Accessibility to customers, which was identified as the most important factor in general, was indicated by almost 80 percent of respondent firms from the city, and by 30 percent of firms in the hinterland. Proximity to the owner’s place of residence – factor number two in the case of firms located in Warsaw, turned out to be relevant for only one out of six hinterland – based enterprises. Instead, firms in the latter group frequently pointed to measures of spatial accessibility - the: nearness of the region’s core city, time - distance to major thoroughfares, proximity to the airport. Conversely, for firms situated in Warsaw factors related to agglomeration and urbanization economies, including presence of other firms in the same branch, as well as business infrastructure, prestige and development potential, were listed among important determinants of location decisions.

Table 1: Leading location factors indicated by Warsaw-based and region-based firms

The firms that have changed their location during the last several years indicated the particular role of situation vis-à-vis major transport routes and of operation costs (for Warsaw – based firms), as well as proximity with respect to cooperating firms - for both groups of enterprises, but especially those in the hinterland zones. These factors were attributed the highest frequency, as expressed in factor coefficient values (see: E. Korcelli-Olejniczak, 2010, p. 585). The importance of the latter location factor may point towards the formation of local firm networks. Such networks of inter-firm production linkages tend to develop both within the Warsaw metropolitan area, and in the region’s more distant hinterland zones.

On the basis of the survey results concerning the direction of firms’ relocation one is allowed to conclude that a certain measure of balance begins to emerge in this respect between the core city and the rest of the metropolitan region. Firms’ location moves tend to assume a multilateral rather that unilateral character. Some enterprises, originally subsisting in the region’s outlying zones, now find their new locations in the Warsaw metropolitan ring. At the same time, other firms depart from the city for smaller urban places in the hinterland in search of lower operational costs. Their decisions to relocate are supported by improvements in transportation accessibility, the availability of modern telecommunication infrastructure, and by growing local, both consumer and producer generated demand for advanced services.

Some conclusions concerning relations between the metropolitan city and the surrounding region can also be derived from the analysis of firms’ activity range. The data collected in the course of the study show that organization of economic activity in the metropolitan region is not simply related to spatial accessibility with respect to the urban core. For many specialized services produced in the region’ hinterland Warsaw is neither the main recipient, nor a major intermediary. A considerable part of these activities is oriented towards local, as well as extra – regional markets. There are signs for inter - firm linkages in these areas to consolidate into cooperative networks which can lead to an increase of the local development potential. This may mark a certain change of trends in the evolution of economic relationships between the city and the region, even though it is not translated into changes in spatial patterns of socioeconomic indicators at the macro level.

The format of the data available for the purpose of the analysis imposes a number of limitations upon the scope of possible generalizations concerning both the spatial patterns of firms’ activity and their relocation trends. The most restricting in this respect seems to be the dichotomous division of the region into the city of Warsaw and the rest of the voivodship. Such a way of data aggregation does not allow us to identify systematic distinctions in the behavior of firms located within the metropolitan ring as opposed to those located in other parts of the hinterland area, including sub-regional centers and rural zones. Another limitation stems from the lack of disaggregation of the investigated firms into sub-categories, i.e. different activities that may, and most certainly do exhibit specific preferences both with respect to location, as well as spatial interaction patterns.

Discussion and Conclusions

Territorial cohesion related objectives rank high among the development goals that are exposed in the strategic regional policy documents of the Mazowieckie voivodship (see: Strategia Rozwoju, 2006) It is recognized that the observed intraregional disparities constitute a barrier for general socioeconomic development of the Warsaw region as a whole. The increase in territorial cohesion till 2020, as postulated by the planners, is to be based in particular on economic activation of the region’s peripheral zones. This can in turn be achieved by supporting the development of selected urban centers of subregional level, via, among others, their physical revitalization, upgrading of public services and improvements in transportation infrastructure. More specifically, five former (i.e. pre-1999 administrative reform) voivodship capitals: Radom, Płock, Siedlce, Ostrołęka and Ciechanów; now situated within the borders of the Mazowieckie voivodship, are identified in the spatial policy documents as nodes of a polycentric regional settlement pattern. Their future development is seen to be based on endogenous factors combined, by synergy effects, with decentralization, i.e. spread of selected economic activities from the region’s core areas.

The validity of the polycentric development scenario for the region of Warsaw may, however, be questioned in the light of recent empirical evidence (see: Trendy Rozwojowe Mazowsza, 2012) which documents the lack of any notable interactions among the above listed sub-regional centers, in addition to the weaknesses of their today’s economic base. At the same time, the recent studies point at the role of those urban centers, as well as of a score of other, more or less regularly distributed middle-sized towns, centers of poviats – administrative units of intermediate level, in the organization of economic and social activity at sub-regional and local levels.

The latter observation is in line with the findings derived from the analysis of location behavior of firms in the advanced services sector, pertaining to the formation of local, inter-firm cooperative linkages. On this basis it seems justified to suggest that the search for territorial cohesion at intra-regional level can be directed towards the development of networks of enterprises situated in, and around small and middle-sized urban places - in the region’s hinterland zones. For such a phenomenon to be sustained certain incentives and conditions are required, including continuing improvements in technical infrastructure. Inter-firm networks can help to strengthen the overall potential of local centers, this being a precondition for the increase of interdependence, in place of the total dominance of the core city within the metropolitan region.

One has to agree with the presumption that the development of economic activity in the region’s hinterland areas has to rely on combined effects of diffusion from the core and the activation of local, endogenous resources. According to the concept of urban – rural regions which has been earlier referred to in this article, among such local resources the role of environmental assets is becoming particularly important. As it is indicated in a number of studies (see: ESPON 2013, 1010, p. 73; K. Heffner, 2012), environmentally attractive rural zones tend to evolve in the direction of the so called consumption landscapes, or consumption countryside areas. These functions in turn generate new economic activities, by altering the profile of farming, but first of all by creating demand for new service sector activities, including advanced services, for example in the sphere of education and culture. While offering a new development perspective to some smaller urban places situated in regional peripheral areas, such changes contribute to the evolution of city – hinterland relations towards a functional pattern which can be characterized as cohesion through complementarity (see: G. de Roo, 2012).

Which of the future hypothetical development paths, among those indicated in Section 2, should then be regarded as a realistic perspective for the region of Warsaw in a mid-term ? In accordance with the contemporary approaches to the study of metropolitan regions, internal cohesion and interdependence are factors that strongly bear on the regions’ competitive position within broader, i.e. national and international settlement systems. Functional interdependence can be achieved under different models of spatial organization, including the polycentric and the urban-rural type.

Polycentric development, of the kind represented in the concept of European Metropolitan Regions, is basically precluded in the case of the region of Warsaw, considering the existing settlement structure - lack of real sub-dominant centers, i.e. larger cities, aside from Warsaw, that could constitute prospective focal points for metropolitan functions. The recent years have in fact witnessed a growing intra-regional polarization, in both economic and demographic terms, as the city of Warsaw has been capitalizing on its new international position within the EU, by attracting high-ranking activities together with in-migration flows. It is most likely that such a polarization trend will be extended into the near future.

If this development path is followed, then within the hinterland area, beyond the metropolitan ring the observed, long- lasting process of concentration in the settlement network is going to continue – in fact grow in momentum under the creeping overall depopulation process. This implies the clustering of population and economic activity, as well as public services and public institutions in and around centers of intermediate rank, at the cost of small, local urban and rural places. At the same time, the improvements in technical infrastructure will allow for some enlargement of spread effects, i.e. relocation of economic activity from Warsaw, mainly in terms of spillover to peri-urban zones, as well as a further spatial expansion of the city labor market.

From the point of view of intra-regional interdependence, implications of the continuing spatial polarization are not totally clear. In the light of the survey results presented in the previous section, the city – hinterland linkages appear as an important dimension of the firms’ activity in space, even though their presence was reported less frequently than of intra-city and intra-hinterland ties, respectively. Still, as noticed earlier, the hinterland based firms were found to be more active in the development of cooperative linkages at the local scale. All this provides little evidence for the loosening of the traditionally strong city – hinterland interrelations, the phenomenon for which globalization processes are frequently blamed. Nevertheless, if such a trend does in fact occur, it could become reversed, or at least moderated in the future as a consequence of expected increase in the scale of relocation of economic activity from the region’s core to the hinterland area. The latter development, however, could imply an approaching end to the intra-regional polarization process.

For economic spread effects to appear on a noticeable scale, activation of endogenous resources of the region’s hinterland area, its natural endowment including, constitutes normally the crucial factor. An innovative way of using these assets may enable some areas to alter their traditional production profile, or to evolve into “consumption spaces”, and become magnets for selective ex-urban migration. It may also permit smaller urban places to differentiate their economic base by acquiring specialized, including knowledge intensive activities. In the case of the region of Warsaw, with its widespread and variegated rural countryside, such a development perspective seems to be particularly relevant in mid-to-long term. It implies persistence of explicitly monocentric structure of the settlement system, one with the dominant urban core, a spatial extension and development of the peri-urban zone, and an increasingly poly-functional character of the predominantly rural hinterland, with the network of small and middle-sized urban places interconnected functionally at the local scale. At the same time, it may offer an acceptable level of territorial cohesion and intra-regional integration based upon functional complementarity of individual sub-regions.

Taking a more general view it is presumed that the spatial pattern, one defined in the concept of the urban – rural region, represents a coherent evolutionary path for the Warsaw metropolitan region. Such a development, as it can be argued, would profit both the city of Warsaw and the region as a whole. It implies the spread of some advanced, specialized functions from the region’s urban core, an effective use of endogenous resources of the hinterland areas, and formation of preconditions for the development of complementarities between individual zones and sub-centers within the region. It should therefore be recognized and promoted by spatial policy at both regional and interregional levels.


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* Ewa Korcelli-Olejniczak, Department of Urban and Population Studies, Institute of Geography and Spatial Organization, Polish Academy of Sciences, Warsaw, Email:

Edited and posted on the web on 13th March 2013