Planning Beyond Borders on the Island of Ireland

A new Briefing Paper with John Driscoll and Caroline Creamer for the International Centre for Local and Regional Development (ICLRD) explores the application of the concept of ‘functional territories’ in strategic spatial planning on the island of Ireland. The policy concept of functional territories build on recent academic research work on soft spaces and addresses the potential for spatial planning to work across local, regional and/or national boundaries to engage with the functional spaces in between. The paper is particularly timely given the current preparation of a National Planning Framework for the Republic of Ireland, where functional approaches may come to the fore.


Source: Department of Environment, Community and Local Government (2015) Towards a National Planning Framework



CFP: Environmental Regionalism & Emerging Spaces of Environmental Governance: Special Session at RSA Dublin 2017

I am convening an organised session on Environmental Regionalism at the Regional Studies Association Annual International Conference which will be hosted by Trinity College Dublin in June 2017. Please contact me directly if you are interested in participating in this session: cormac.walsh[at]

SS5. Environmental Regionalism & Emerging Spaces of Environmental Governance

Regional approaches to environmental governance are coming to fore as limits to global, sectoral perspectives become increasingly evident. Such spaces of environmental governance are emerging at multiple scales from the local to the transnational and vary substantially with regard to their degree of institutionalisation. They, nevertheless, have in common, the objective of producing governance spatialities beyond the territorial boundaries of the nation-state. In practice transboundary environmental regions constitute complex multiscalar institutional arenas involving the negotiation of territorial and functional, soft and hard constructions of space. Their boundaries may be understood as the product of political negotiation and the socio-spatial construction of environmental problems at particular scales. Their analysis requires perspectives that go beyond existing simplistic and reductionist perspectives concerning the degree of spatial fit or scalar match between institutional and socio-ecological systems or the rescaling of governance to environmental boundaries. This session seeks to explore the politics of environmental regionalism from diverse critical and interdisciplinary perspectives.

Possible topics of interest for this special session include the following:

  • Processes of institutionalistion relating to coastal, marine, mountain and/other forms of environmental regionalism
  • Critical analysis of environmental boundary-making and associated processes of exclusion and inclusion
  • National parks and transboundary protected areas as environmental regions?
  • Tensions between co-existing environmental and economic and/or cultural regionalisms
  • Environmental regionalism, spatial planning and the environmental dimension of territorial cohesion
  • The institutional construction of landscape and processes of regionalisation

Submission guidelines

Please submit proposals for papers in the form of a 250 word abstract (text only) through the Regional Studies Association conference portal by Friday 24th February 2017. Proposals will be considered by the Conference Programme Committee against the criteria of originality, interest and subject balance.

Spatial Planning Unbounded: Transboundary Spaces of Environmental Governance

On 19th September I will present a paper at a AESOP Symposium on Transboundary Spaces, Policy Diffusion and Planning Cultures, hosted by the Technical University of Kaiserslautern.

My paper will focus on transboundary spaces of environmental governance and the potential application of spatial planning approaches within this field. I deliberately seek to challenge and provoke spatial planning researchers to think outside the box of the traditional spatial planning field to engage with the emergence of transboundary spaces within the environmental governance field. In this sense, a double unbounding of spatial planning is called for: moving beyond nation-state boundaries, and moving beyond the traditional domain of the planning profession  – urban and regional development. The paper provides an explicit link between my ongoing research interest in strategic spatial planning and soft spaces and my more recent engagement with environmental governance at the Wadden Sea coast. In part the paper draws on a previous conference paper presented at the German Geographers’ Conference in Berlin in September 2015.

The abstract of my paper is reproduced below:


European spatial planning, from the European Spatial Development Perspective (1999) to the Territorial Agenda of the European Union 2020 (2011) constitutes a statement of high-level commitment to the importance of place-based and spatially-sensitive approaches to governance within the European Union. In recent years, however, it appears that the distinctive spatial dimension at the core of territorial cohesion and governance has become increasingly elusive (see Stead 2014). Considerations of spatiality continue to be marginal within mainstream academic debates on multi-level governance and European integration.

At the same time, spatial approaches are coming to the fore in European environmental governance, accompanied by the emergence of transboundary environmental spaces at multiple spatial scales. Prominent examples of the recent spatialisation of EU environmental governance include the deployment of international river basin districts under the Water Framework Directive, biogeographic regions under the Habitats Directive and the adoption of eco-system based approaches to marine spatial planning. Transboundary environmental spaces, however, have a longer history in Europe. International commissions for the protection of the Rhine and Lake Constance date from the 1950s. In practice transboundary environmental spaces constitute complex multiscalar institutional arenas involving the negotiation of territorial and functional, soft and hard constructions of space (cf. Walsh et al 2015). Their boundaries may be understood as the product of political negotiation and the socio-spatial construction of environmental problems at particular scales.

This paper explores the construction of transboundary environmental spaces and their implications for spatial planning and territorial cohesion through a case study of the trilateral Wadden Sea cooperation, an intergovernmental cooperation space, extending from Den Helder in the Netherlands to Esbjerg in Denmark and incorporating the full North Sea coast of Germany. The case study focuses, specifically, on the challenges of negotiating across distinct governance cultures and national framings of society-environment relations and the potential role of processes of spatial strategy-making in the transboundary coordination of spatial development objectives within the Wadden Sea region.

The paper is thus concerned with the environmental dimension of territorial cohesion and the application of strategic approaches to spatial planning and governance within the environmental policy field (EEA 2012). Placing transboundary spaces of environmental governance within the context of a territorial cohesion agenda constitutes a challenge to the mainstream narrative of territorial development and cohesion with its focus on the economic growth and economic competitiveness. The paper calls for a return to the cross-sectoral policy integration ambitions at the root of European spatial planning and a broadening of critical analytical focus within spatial planning to scholarship to adequately respond to the emergence of transboundary governance spaces within the environmental policy field.

Keywords: transboundary, soft spaces, environmental dimension, spatial planning, Wadden Sea.


Paper at RGS-IBG 2016: Adaptive coastal governance in practice: A critical analysis of long‐term multi‐stakeholder strategy‐making at the German Wadden Sea Coast

At the RGS-IBG annual international conference at Imperial College London, this week, I presented a paper in a session on Governing Adaptation (abstract below). The paper sought to examine recent practices of adaptive coastal governance at the Wadden Sea Coast of Germany. The paper draws on research interviews conducted by the author in February of this year. The research will feed into my larger DFG project on Wadden Sea coastal management, due to formally kick-off later this month.



The federal state of Schleswig-Holstein has recently published a strategy to guide coastal management and nature protection at the Wadden Sea coast for the period up to 2100. In the context of climate change adaptation, a space has opened up for a common strategy; jointly prepared and claimed by stakeholders in both coastal protection and nature protection. This multi-stakeholder approach has emerged against the background of a governance landscape hitherto characterised by vertically-integrated sectoral governance and a history of antagonistic relations between actors in coastal and nature protection. This paper critically examines the extent to which the Wadden Sea 2100 strategy represents a transformative paradigm shift towards adaptive multi-stakeholder coastal governance. The analysis, drawing on qualitative interviews with key participants, will focus in particular on the interaction of diverse knowledge frames, institutional rationalities and understandings of nature-culture relations in the strategy-making process.


New Project: Metageographies and Spatial Frames: Coastal Management as Situated Practice in the international Wadden Sea Region

Following a successful application for funding from the German Research Foundation (DFG), my funding is secured for three years of research on embedded spatialities and situated practices of coastal management in the Trilateral Wadden Sea Region. The project will commence in Autumn 2016.

A summary is provided below. The project represents a continuation of a my recent exploratory work at the Wadden Sea (reported here & here) and more broadly on cultural geographies of the coast. At a conceptual level there are strong continuities with my previous research on metageographies and to a lesser degree, soft spaces, in spatial planning.

Wadden Sea

Coastal management constitutes an ever-present and challenging task for coastal communities across the world. Coastal landscapes occupying the interface between land and sea are characterised by particular and evolving relations between society and nature and characterised by complex interactions between geophysical, ecological, economic and socio-cultural processes. They are imbued with cultural and natural values and associated with diverse and at times contested rationalities of coastal and nature protection. Theoretically informed understanding of the relationships between coastal communities and their environments remains limited. In particular, there is an evident need for situated perspectives which explicitly recognise the diversity of coastal places and associated embedded practices of coastal management.

This research project introduces a novel, innovative approach to addressing the spatial dimensions of coastal management and the implications of particular spatialities on coastal management practices. Taking seriously the proposition that coexisting heterogeneity, multiplicity and diversity is a constitutive feature of spatiality, the project will firstly examine the extent to which coastal management practices are regionally embedded and situated within the coastal landscape. Through comparative case study analysis the research will identify similarities and dissimilarities in coastal management practices across the Wadden Sea and assess the extent to which dissimilarities are associated with local and regionally-specific cultures of practice and landscape characteristics. Secondly, recognising the socially constructed nature of space as well as the structuring role of spatialities in social relations the research will examine the role of embedded spatialities in the collective construction of coastal landscapes and practices of coastal management.

Two comparative cross-border case studies, located at the Dutch-German and Danish-German borders constitute the empirical focus of the research. The project will (a) identify the principal SIS of coastal management within each case study area and their associated actor constellations, normative principles and cultures of practice; (b) identify the influence of material spatial practices on the social construction of the Wadden Sea coastal landscape; (c) examine the role of metageographies as powerful spatial structures underlying the institutional structuring of coastal landscapes and coastal management practices; (d) identify, classify and critically examine processes of spatial framing and resultant spatial frames and their roles within the discursive context of specific sectoral-institutional systems; (e) examine the extent to which the spatial separation of nature and culture in discursive and material structures influences the conceptual separation of nature and culture within the wider institutional contexts of coastal management and nature protection.