The category of small towns is progressively polarized under the impact of metropolitan development. There is a growing diversification of such places with regard to functions performed and the overall position in settlement systems at regional and national levels. Aside from the division line which separates these towns that are located within, from those situated beyond the commuting range of large urban centres, this is increasingly related to local, territorial capital held. In general, however, the flattening of urban hierarchy and the decreasing importance of hierarchical linkages affect in particular the role of local service centres, especially in sparsely settled peripheral areas. Concerning the future, three alternative development paths are discussed in the article against the relevant conceptual background. These refer to the cyclical nature of urbanization processes, assume an extrapolation of trends observed or, alternatively, consider a containment of metropolization phenomena. With respect to policy related questions, changes in small town networks in peri-urban zones are identified as a specific, sensitive issue.
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