Local networks of small towns in Eastern Europe

Numerous studies on regional change have identified tendencies towards polarization in the spatial structures of Eastern Europe. Peripheral areas beyond the catchment areas of large centres are usually identified as problem region and "losers in the transition process". In this project, local networks and the scope of action of small towns in Eastern Europe (East German, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland) were be examined from a comparative perspective. Geographical research has hitherto interpreted the development of small towns mainly as an externally determined process. This dominant, limited view of small town development was augmented in this project by an internal perspective.

The Locality Studies approach provides a theoretical foundation for the analysis of the scope of action of small towns. In the context of Locality Studies, successful local development is linked less with physical or locational characteristics but instead is attributed to locally produced, normative orientations, behaviours and patterns of social relations. The project has examined local networks using the theoretical concepts of Social Capital and Urban Governance and has analysed the significance of locally produced networks for the development of small towns.


The project results show a high degree of satisfaction of the small town citizens with their every day life in the small town. Between 84% (Kuldiga) and 57% (Silale) of the respondents indicate that they enjoy living in the small town. There is also a strong emotional attachment to the small towns, which is often based on the proximity to friends and family.

Necessary improvements in the small towns are mentioned in the fields of spare time activities, education (German and Polish small towns), urban appearance (Latvian and German small towns) and retail trade (Lithuanian small towns and Valka). There are significant differences in the perception of chances for future development. Prospects for the small towns are seen much more negative in the East German small towns than in the other regions.

All analysed small towns have a significant potential of social capital. Small towns with their dominance of face-to-face contacts seem to be favourable environments for social capital building. There are different reasons offered by local elites and local citizens for a certain lack of participation in small town activities. While key actors (expert interviews) stress a lack of interest on the part of the local population, the household interviews point at a lack of possibilities for local involvement and a lack of consideration for citizen's interests in local decision making processes as main reasons.

Kriszan, Agnes / Burdack, Joachim / Knappe, Elke [Hrsg.] (2010): Small towns in Eastern Europe: local networks and urban development. Beiträge zur Regionalen Geographie 64. Leipzig

Borsig, Agnes (2007): Sozialkapital und ehrenamtliches Engagement in polnischen Kleinstädten. In: Sozialwissenschaftliches Journal, II (3). S. 43-62.

Burdack, Joachim (2007): Kleinstädte im Abseits? Zur Entwicklung mitteldeutscher Kleinstädte nach 1990. In: Geographische Rundschau 59 (6). S. 34-43

Burdack, Joachim / Knappe, Elke (2007): The Development of Small Towns in Central Europe and the Baltic States. GeografiskiRaksti XIII. S. 35-45.

Project information

Project team

Joachim Burdack, Elke Knappe, Agnes Kriszan


University of Klaipeda (Lithuania), University of Poznan (Poland), University of Riga (Latvia)

Duration of project

11/2006 – 01/2009

Funded by

German Research Forundation (DfG)

Further information

Joachim Burdack


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