The “territorial dimension” drives the endogenous Regional Development. In order to analyse deeply the determinants of Regional Development, it is essential to describe the territories, their natural conformations and the impact of human intervention. In addition, it is necessary to study the potentialities, the resources and the critical issues concerning territories. Deepening the knowledge of this dimension, in particular the multiplicity and specificity of the interacting factors lay the foundation for defining the 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 surface of the Italian NUTS2 units (consisting of 19 regions and the two autonomous provinces of Trento and Bolzano/Bozen) is just over 14 thousand sq. km and in 2019 the average population accounted for over 3 million inhabitants.
Population density, a crucial indicator to determine the impact of the anthropogenic pressure on the environment, confirmed the downward trend recorded in the last six years, from 201.2 inhabitants per sq. km in 2014 to 197.7 inhabitants per sq. km in 2019.
In 2020, the terrestrial Protected Areas of the Natura 2000 Network slightly increased, reaching an extension of more than 58 thousand sq. km and a coverage of 19.3% of the National Area. It accounted for a considerable share of the protected natural areas covering, overall, about 22% of the national territory (net of overlaps with the Natura 2000 Network areas and for land areas only).
In 2020, in Italy, the number of Special Protection Areas (SPAs) slightly increased compared to the previous year. It consisted of 636 sites and reached a total extension of 41,269 sq. km, while the Sites of Community Importance (SCI) and the Special Areas of Conservation (SAC) are overall stable in terms of number and land surface (43,950 sq. Km).
In 2020, the extension of the protected marine areas of the Natura 2000 Network showed a significant increase compared to the previous year, going from 11,041 sq. Km to 20,716 sq. Km, reaching a coverage of 13.4% of the total area of territorial waters.
Data on building permits (new buildings and useful floor area) provide early signals on construction activities, which have a great impact on territories. Although, in 2019, residential sector has been rising for the 4th year, the actual level was still half of that recorded in 2010. The average sizes of the new buildings showed a growth; but the average volume raised at a higher rate than floor area. However, over a decade, the number of buildings has been reducing, on average, by 20% in volume terms and by 15% in floor area terms.
The demographic size and territorial area registered in Italian Regions and autonomous provinces are highly variable. In 2019, Lombardia was confirmed as the most populated Region in Italy (with over 10 million residents), followed by Lazio (5,764,388 residents) and Campania (5,726,217 residents); while Umbria, Basilicata, Molise and Valle d’Aosta/Vallée d’Aoste, located in alpine areas and along the Apennines, were the least populated (less than one million residents).
The most densely populated region were Lombardia (419.9 inhabitants per sq. km, more than twice the national average) and Campania (418.9 inhabitants per sq. km). At the bottom of the ranking, there is Valle d’Aosta/Vallée d’Aoste, which was the least densely populated region, preceded by Basilicata, Sardegna and Molise (70 inhabitants per sq. Km.).
As for population density, the highest deviations from the national average (197.7 inhabitants sq. km) were registered in municipalities with an area up to 1.000 ha (which showed an average of 560.1 inhabitants per sq.km) and for municipalities with an area between 1.001 ha and 2.000 ha (which showed an average 277.7 inhabitants per sq.km).
In 2020, the region with the highest share of protected area within the “Natura 2000 Network” was Abruzzo, with 35.7% of terrestrial protected area (the national average is 19.3%). The South and islands of Italy present both the largest extension of land area subject to this protection (26,711 sq. km) and the highest incidence of protected areas (21.6%, a slight increase compared to the previous year).
In the Centre, however, the smallest share of these protected areas was registered (17.2%, to a total area of 9,968 sq. km), while Sicilia (4,709 sq. km) and Sardegna (4,545 sq. km) showed the largest areas of territory included in the Natura 2000 Network.
As for the SPA sites, Abruzzo (3,242 sq. km; 29.9%) and Lazio (3,806 sq. km; 22.1%) shoewed the highest values.
In 2020, in the South and Islands of Italy, the largest increases in the marine surface of the protected areas were recorded. In particular, in Sardegna, where the marine surface within the “Natura 2000 Network” tripled compared to the previous year, the regional marine surface accounted for 18.3%, the SCI-SACs areas 18% and the SPAs 13.1%.
The greatest extension of protected marine surface were recorded in Sicilia (with 6,502 sq. km), Toscana (4,426 sq km) and Sardegna (4,101 sq. km).
In 2019, in useful floor area terms, all the geographical areas showed a trend equal to the national one, apart from the South that showed a drop when compared to the previous year. In the Northeast and in the Central-North areas the number of buildings slightly increased, offsetting the drop recorded in the other geographical areas. Therefore, the national value was stable when compared with the previous year. The highest increases for both indices are recorded in Bolzano/Bozen, while the highest drops in Liguria.
In 2019, Italy showed the highest average NUTS2 population (almost 3 million inhabitants) in Europe. Lithuania, France, Spain, Ireland and Romania followed it, in the decreasing ranking of EU countries.
Italy was, in fact, among the most densely populated European countries: 119.6 inhabitants per sq. km compared to the EU average of 114.4 inhabitants per sq. km. In the decreasing ranking, Italy was preceded by Malta (1,598.2 inhabitants per sq. in a territory with just over 300 sq.km there are), the Netherlands, Belgium, the United Kingdom, Luxembourg and Germany. Sweden and Finland were characterised by the lowest population density.
In 2020, the “Natura 2000 Network” accounted for almost one fifth (over 785 thousand 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 showed an incidence equal to 19.3% of the national territory, exceeding the average of the EU countries (18.0%). In particular, Italy ranked 13th for the land share and fourth for the extension of land areas (58,438 sq. km), preceded by Spain (138,111 sq. km), France (70,875 sq. km) and Poland (61,168 sq. km).
In 2019, both the number of buildings and the useful floor area recorded an upturn in the EU. Compared to the previous year, the two indices increased in about half of the EU countries. When compared with 2015, the largest increases in floor area terms were recorded in Spain and Cyprus. The growth rate in Italy is lower (129.5) than the European average (137.5), even though the number of buildings increased at a slightly greater rate than the European average.