OECD work on Cities

Unlocking the Potential of Intermediary Cities


A key opportunity for smart, inclusive and sustainable territorial development

  • What's the issue?

Compared to large cities, intermediary cities provide a compromise between quality of life and affordability. Intermediary cities have opportunities to attract people and firms. They can also effectively promote a more balanced distribution of population, economic activity and opportunities across space, contributing to regional competitiveness, cohesion and sustainability. Successful intermediary cities are key hubs for innovation and research, being attractive for highly productive activities and highly skilled jobs. On the contrary, others face significant challenges such as the need for economic restructuring and investment, in the face of rising financial and capability constraints. Many intermediary cities are managing decline as a result of economic structures based on traditional industrial sectors. This exacerbates social tensions and discontent.  

We define intermediary cities as those:

  • playing relevant intermediation functions within the national urban hierarchy (i.e. between large and small cities) in terms of managing flows of people, goods, capital, information and knowledge; and / or
  • connecting urban and rural areas (urban-rural relationships), in terms of the supply of services and opportunities.

Despite the potential and the challenges of intermediary cities, policy attention has often overlooked them, focusing on large metropolitan areas. This represents a missed opportunity.

OECD work on unlocking the potential of intermediary cities for regional development aims to provide theoretical contributions, empirical results and case-study applications, to better understand the challenges and potential of intermediary cities – both standalone and as systems – and guide policies targeted to achieve balanced and sustainable development. The work is organised around an analytical focus, and a policy and governance focus.

  1. Analytical focus: aims to provide data and analysis and better understand the challenges and potential of intermediary cities – both standalone and as systems.
  2. Policy and governance focus: to guide policies aiming to achieve smart, inclusive, and sustainable urban development in OECD member and partner countries, and to inform a greener, low-carbon transition towards net-zero urban and regional economies.


  • What can the OECD offer?

The OECD Programme Unlocking the potential of intermediary cities supports countries, regions and cities to take advantage of opportunities presented to intermediary cities, and tackle the challenges these cities face. The program offers:


Intermediary cities and megatrends: forward-looking trends and scenarios

  • Analysis of the impacts of megatrends on intermediary cities (e.g. remote work post-COVID-19, and how it could raise the attractiveness of intermediary cities);
  • Identification of opportunities and challenges for cities, and policy implications to enable people and territories to reap the opportunities of megatrends;
  • Future scenarios of development in intermediary cities.

Cross-country data collection and analysis  

  • Dedicated data on development and well-being in intermediary cities;
  • Cross-country analysis of urban features and development trends in cities, systems of cities and urban-rural linkages;
  • Identification of the drivers of the development and well-being of intermediary cities.

In-depth country, region and city reviews

  • Focused territorial analysis, with analytical, policy and governance focus and tailor-made recommendations;
  • Assessment of national and subnational policy and governance framework;
  • Local, national and multi-stakeholder policy dialogues and knowledge-sharing events.

International comparison and benchmarking

  • International dissemination, peer-learning and best-practice diffusion; and
  • Best practices and checklists for public action.

 Intermediary Cities

Read the flyer









For further information, please contact:

David Burgalassi, Economist / Policy Anayst, [email protected]

Tadashi Matsumoto, Head of Unit, Sustainable Development & Global Relations, [email protected] 


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