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The "territorial dimension" is the engine for endogenous Regional Development. To understand it, it's essential to describe the territories, the natural conformations and the characterizations determined by human intervention in detail; it's also necessary to study the potentialities, the resources and the criticalities of the places. Deepening the knowledge of this dimension, of the multiplicity and specificity of the factors that interact, represents the foundation for defining policies of sustainable development, conservation and promotion of territories, with the primary objective of ensuring the best quality of life for the people who reside in those territories.
The average size of the Italian NUTS2 units (consisting of 19 regions and the two autonomous provinces of Trento and Bolzano / Bozen) in terms of area is just over 14 thousand sq. km and, in 2018, there was an average population of almost 2.9 million inhabitants.
Population density, a useful indicator to determine the impact that anthropogenic pressure exerts on the environment, in 2018 was on average 200 inhabitants per sq. km, confirming the downward trend recorded in the last four years.
In 2019, the terrestrial Protected Areas of the Natura 2000 Network (Rete Natura 2000), slightly increased compared to 2017, had an extension of more than 58 thousand sq. km and covered 19.4% of the National Area. It therefore represented a considerable share of the protected natural areas covering, overall, about 22% of the national territory (net of overlaps with Natura 2000 Network areas and for land areas only).
Always in 2019, the extension of marine protected areas had a significant increase compared to 2017, going from 3.8% to 7.2%; the total number was 2,621 areas.
In 2019, in our country the number of Special Protection Areas (SPAs), slightly increased compared to the previous year. It consisted of 627 sites and reached a total extension of 41,240 sq. km, while the Sites of Community Importance (SCI) and the Special Areas of Conservation (SAC) are overall substantially stable in terms of number and surface.
Data on building permits (new housing and useful living space) provided early signals about the building activity that has a strong impact on spatial planning. In 2018, the residential sector recorded positive changes for the third consecutive year, although it was slowing down compared to the previous year. The slowdown also affected the number of households registered in Italy for the same year.
Regions and autonomous provinces are highly variable in terms of demographic size and territorial area. In 2018, Lombardy was confirmed as the most populated Region of Italy (with over 10 million residents), Lazio (5,896,693 residents) was at the second position followed by Campania (5,826,860 residents); while Umbria, Basilicata, Molise and Valle d'Aosta/Vallée d'Aoste, located in alpine areas and along the Apennines, with a population of less than one million residents, were the least populated.
The most densely populated region was Campania with 425.3 inhabitants per sq. km (more than twice the national average), followed by Lombardia (421 inhabitants per sq. km). At the bottom of the ranking there was Valle d’Aosta / Vallée d’Aoste which was the least densely populated region, preceded by Basilicata, Sardegna and Molise with less than 70 inhabitants per sq. Km.
In 2019, the region with the highest share of protected territory for the Natura 2000 Network was Abruzzo, with 35.9% of terrestrial protected area (the national average is 19.4%). In the South and islands of Italy there was both the largest extension of land area subject to such protection (26,681 sq. km) and the highest incidence of these areas (21.7%) which also had a slight increase. In the Centre, however, there was the smallest share of these protected areas (17.1% with a total area equal to 9,906 sq. km). Sicilia (4,713 sq. km) and Sardegna (4,545 sq. km) have consistently held the primacy as they had the largest extensions of territory included in the Natura 2000 Network.
As regards the Special Protection Areas (SPAs), Abruzzo held the primacy with a protected area that made up 30.0% of the regional area. Over the past three years, there has been a considerable increase in the number of SCIs that have completed the EU process to be designated SACs, from 1,101 sites in 2016 to 2,261 sites in 2019, out of a total of 2,342 sites in Italy. Among the Italian regions, Liguria, Veneto, Umbria, Molise, Campania, Puglia and Basilicata concluded the process because all SCI areas were designated as SPAs. Few regions have yet to complete the process, which, in total, concern 81 sites, mainly concentrated in Abruzzo (12), Sicilia (22) and Sardegna (14).
In 2018, as in the previous two years, both the indicators (new housing and useful living area per 1000 families) showed growth at a national level, which, however, was lower than the previous year. In terms of the number of dwellings, all the subdivisions followed the trend highlighted for Italy; while, for the useful living area, the North-East and the Centre-North grew steadily in the last three years. The only regions that were in counter-trend compared to the national figure were Piemonte, Trentino, Lazio and Basilicata. On the other hand, Friuli, Puglia and Calabria showed a decreasing trend, opposite to the National One, only for the useful living area indicator.
In 2018, Italy was the European country with the highest average NUTS2 population (about 2.9 million inhabitants). It was followed, in the decreasing ranking of EU countries, by Lithuania, France, Spain, Ireland and Romania.
Italy was, in fact, among the most densely populated European countries: 200 inhabitants per sq. km compared to the EU average of 114.1 inhabitants per sq. km. In the decreasing ranking, the country was preceded by Malta, The Netherlands, Belgium, the United Kingdom, Luxembourg and Germany. Sweden and Finland were characterised by the lowest population densities.
In 2019, the Natura 2000 Network represented almost one fifth (785,331 sq. km) of the EU's land area and more than 250,000 sq. km of marine area. As for the land areas of the Network, Italy, with an incidence equal to 19.4% of the national territory, exceeded the average of the EU countries (18.1%). In particular, Italy was at the thirteenth place in the ranking by land share and fourth in the extension of land areas (58,344 sq. km), preceded by Spain (138,016 sq. km), France (70,750 sq. km) and Poland (61,156 sq. km).
In 2018, for the third year in a row, the EU recorded an increase in both the number of dwellings and the useful living area. In particular, both indicators increased compared to the previous year in all EU countries except Austria, Croatia, Estonia, Finland, France, Sweden and Hungary. In Lithuania and Malta, only the indicator of useful living area was decreasing. Compared to the useful living area recorded in 2015, the highest values were recorded in 2018 in Spain (339.1) and Hungary (283.5), while Italy (127.4) showed a lower growth compared to that recorded at a EU level (136.3).