Three weeks ago (October 4th), I presented a paper at the German Congress for Geography, Humboldt University Berlin. The paper, entitled Beyond Geography Matters: Negotiating Territoriality and Functionality in Theory and Practice was co-authored with Annegret Repp of the Leibniz Centre for Agricultural Landscape Research in Müncheberg and HafenCity university Hamburg.
The paper sought to critically examine the actual and potential governance capacity of European spatial planning with in light of the emergence of increasingly spatial approaches to governance within the environmental policy field. How do environmental governance actors negotiate territorial and functional spaces in practice? How can the concepts of soft spaces, spatial fit and variable geometry contribute to an analytical understanding of emerging new spaces of environmental governance? Can governance actors move beyond state-centric metageographies to engage with cross-boundary functional spaces?
The abstract is reproduced here:
The multi-level and multi-sectoral governance context of the European Union presents particular challenges of integration across spatial scales, territories and policy sectors. Indeed, a number of studies have highlighted the potential for EU operational programmes to lead to unintended and contradictory outcomes due to problems of coordination and misalignment at the levels of both policy formulation and implementation. The integration of strategic spatial and environmental objectives into sectoral policies remains a key challenge for governance in Europe, arguably requiring changes in institutional structures, governance cultures and operational paradigms at all spatial scales. At the same time it is possible to identify a renewed focus on the spatiality of governance as actors experiment with news of working with functional spaces, crossing established territorial boundaries. In this context, space has become a focus for and means towards cross-sectoral policy integration. River basin management under the EU Water Framework Directive, protected areas under the Habitats Directive and marine spatial planning each represent prominent examples of the emergence of explicitly spatial perspectives under EU environmental directives each of which have also generated critical discussion in the academic literature. Paradoxically, the integrative potential of spatial perspectives in environmental policy has begun to be recognised at the same as academic and policy debate on integrated and strategic forms of European spatial planning have lost momentum and become displaced by less ambitious concepts and discourses of territorial cohesion and territorial governance. We argue that European spatial policy in its current form fails to move beyond its claim that geography matters, to constructively contribute to the question of how sectoral policy (including environmental policy) should address the seemingly elusive spatial dimension. Indeed there has been very limited engagement with academic and policy debates on territorial cohesion and territorial governance in the environmental management literature and similarly limited attention paid to the environmental dimension of territorial cohesion. In the German context, experimental governance approaches such as sustainable land management and urban-rural energy regions nevertheless indicate the potential for integrated spatial-environmental approaches.
Specifically, the paper compares and contrasts the analytical perspectives of spatial fit and soft spaces, both of which move some of the way towards explaining the ways in which governance actors work with multiple socially constructed spatialities. With their separate origins in the environmental management and spatial planning literatures respectively these concepts have developed in isolation from each other and have not previously been brought into dialogue.