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Cities in Europe and Central Asia : Bulgaria (English)

Cities in Bulgaria are experiencing an important population decline, which is linked to the overall decline of the country’s population and its urban population. However, the country continues to urbanize, in the strict sense of the term, as urban areas decline at slower rates than rural areas. Urban population decline is also not homogeneous across the territory. Decline is disproportionately concentrated in small towns and mid-size cities while large cities like Sofia and Varna continue to grow. A spatial pattern is also visible, with most of the cities located along the Black Sea coast corridor growing. This evidences a re-organization of population within the urban system with cities competing to retain and attract available human capital. Agglomerations and large cities appear to be wining the ‘competition’ as they concentrate the little urban population growth observed in the country. This analysis of the urban system reveals the emergence and consolidation of three city types with contrasting economic, spatial, and demographic patterns. The first type is composed of a few urban centers that are large contributors to the economy and continue to be pillars of economic growth. As mentioned above, these are mainly represented by large cities and agglomerations. The second type, corresponds to cities which continue to be engines of growth in the country despite declining in population. The third corresponds to cities that are declining both in population and economic activity. While this snapshot does not intend to study the underlying dynamics behind observed trends nor prescribe specific interventions; the analysis does have important policy implications. In particular, in regards to the need to develop a dual approach in the managing of urban areas; As it will be difficult to redress trends in overall urban population decline, Bulgaria needs to put in place the right national policies to better manage the population decline of most of its cities. At the subnational level, local authorities will need to re-assess how infrastructure is planned and maintained and the way services are financed and delivered. The country also needs to put in place the right policies in cities that continue to grow economically, but are experiencing population decline. In these cases, city administrators should aim at managing population decline in an efficient and harmonious way making the best out of it,for example, turning brown fields into public space and optimizing public transportation. In parallel, Bulgaria also needs to recognize the role of urban areas in economic growth and make sure that they have the right tools to reach their full potential. To achieve increased productivity in urban centers, the right mix of good governance, a beneficial business climate, and an efficient provision of public goods, usually in the form of public services and infrastructure, is necessary so that agglomeration economies are fostered and congestion costs reduced. In urban areas experiencing population growth, cities should focus on adapting infrastructure and services to ensure that new-comers are well absorbed and integrated into the city and manage peri-urban growth to avoid sprawl, etc. In addition, the realignment of city boundaries or introduction of metropolitan governance mechanisms might be needed to achieve an effective coordination of agglomerations which span across administrative units.

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Cities in Europe and Central Asia : Bulgaria (English). Washington, D.C. : World Bank Group. http://documents.worldbank.org/curated/en/322891511932837431/Cities-in-Europe-and-Central-Asia-Bulgaria