Intermediate cities and sustainable development


Half of the urban population in the world lives in cities of less than 500,000 inhabitants. For the period 2015–2030, it is predicted that cities with a population size of less than 1 million will gain more inhabitants than today’s megacities. These medium-sized urban centres – also referred to as secondary cities – will represent the living environment of the majority of urban dwellers in the coming decades. It is therefore essential that they are studied in detail to understand their specific challenges and the sustainable development opportunities they may offer. Critical areas for assessment are migration (rural-urban or transnational), housing, economic opportunity, services and environment.


To set up urban observatories in secondary cities in order to analyze the changes to which these cities are subjected and to draw international comparisons to identify global phenomena. Foremost, detailed local studies aim to derive tailored urban development strategies.

Expected Benefits

  • In partner country: The research conducted will integrate knowledge based on decision-making processes of Swiss municipalities to implement sustainable urban policies and serve cities in the global South to become innovative laboratories to implement climate change measures, address social inequalities and develop competitive economic attractiveness. Through an iterative process, research results will feed back into the Swiss system providing additional insights and perspectives for further improvement.
  • In Switzerland: We expect some degree of territorial rebalancing, a decrease in the attraction of major cities, taking more advantage of investing and transforming cities of smaller scale and a valorization of local identities and cultures. These factors are particularly relevant in Switzerland, where the model of territorial development is characterized by a network of small and secondary cities.

Contact Information

Jean-Claude Bolay,

EPFL Cooperation & Development Center, EPFL

Intermediate cities and sustainable development
Intermediate cities and sustainable development

Partner countries: Chile, Colombia, Honduras, India, Nepal, Switzerland

Research Partners: SDC and UNISDR, building collaborations with research partners, policy makers and practitioners from the global North and the global South.

Cost: CHF 24 Mio

Duration: 4 years