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.


Cities and Regions in Cross-Border Cooperation: Competing or Complementary Dynamics?

On 17th May, I convened and chaired a session on cities and regions in cross-border cooperation at the Border Regions in Transition (BRIT) annual conference. The conference took place in Hamburg (Germany) and (Sonderborg) two hundred kilometres to the North and across the border in Denmark. The conference was jointly hosted by the University of Southern Denmark (Centre for Border Region Studies), HafenCity University Hamburg and University of Hamburg. The theme of the conference: Cities, States and Borders: from the Local to the Border placed emphasis on the evolving roles of cities in relation to nation-states and their territorial borders in the context of economic globalisation and securitisation.

Against this background, the session on cities and regions in cross-border cooperation sought to explicitly address the dynamics of cross-border regionalism and city-regionalism through critical reflection on empirical case studies located across Europe. It is evident that European cities and regions can and do benefit through cooperation across nation-state borders and the realisation of the development potentials of cross-border functional regions. The well-known cases of Öresund, Basel Metropolitan Area, Lille, Luxembourg and Geneva demonstrate clearly that territorial borders need not present insurmountable obstacles to metropolitan regional development (Sohn et al. 2009, Hansen 2013, Fricke 2015). In cross-border metropolitan regions, governance capacity is matched by functional integration and a comparatively high density of cross-border economic, social and cultural relations. Cross-border contexts characterised by asymmetrical spatial development structures face more significant challenges in the establishment of mutually beneficial cooperation initiatives (Calzada 2015). Indeed, as cross-border cooperation in Europe matures, it is increasingly apparent that cities and regions tend to follow distinct strategies and as a consequence multiple partnership initiatives often emerge within the context of larger cross-border regions. As connectivity between cities and metropolitan regions increases, neighbouring rural hinterland regions may face a relative loss of connectivity and become further marginalised. Relational processes of metropolitanisation and peripheralisation are shaped by the spatially selective opening of borders and the associated construction of cross-border corridors and gateways.

May own paper within this session concerned the emerging Fehmarnbelt region at the border between northern Germany and southern Denmark and the role of the cities of Hamburg and Copenhagen and their respective metropolitan regions in this context.

Research Workshop: Managing Coastal Change and Climate Vulnerability: Questions of Place, Space and Landscape

Climate change perception, landscape perception and management practices in coastal areas are integrally related. Climate change becomes grounded and is given meaning through landscape practices. Coastal management and climate change adaptation in theory and practice, have nevertheless struggled to deal with cultural aspects relating to the mediation of perception through landscape and the influence of climate vulnerabilities on the social construction of space, place and landscape. This workshop responds to this challenge, drawing together leading researchers internationally whose work provides important cultural and social-theoretic critiques both from within (spatial planning and coastal management disciplines) and without (cultural geography and environmental humanities).

Workshop Poster

Adaptation to climate change and associated sea-level rise presents profound challenges for coastal regions across the world producing new vulnerabilities, risks and uncertainties. Climate change is increasingly recognised to require a fundamental reassessment of conventional approaches to coastal engineering which have typically relied on hard infrastructures of dykes, dams and sea walls (Temmerman et al 2013). From a cultural geography perspective, it may be argued that the abstract discourse of climate change is given meaning and becomes grounded through the engagement of coastal communities with dynamics of actual and anticipated change in the coastal land- and seascapes (cf. Ratter et al. 2009, Kremer et al 2013). Through this workshop we seek to develop a situated understanding of coastal management as a highly differentiated and place-specific set of practices. Treating coastal management as a set of situated practices implies an acknowledgement of the spatial contingency of scientific, professional and lay forms of knowledge (cf. Brace & Geoghagen 2011, 287).

The workshop will bring a grounded comparative perspective to the question of managing coastal change which has been missing from academic and policy debates on integrated coastal zone management, climate change adaptation and the related field of marine spatial planning. The workshop will consequently focus on questions of spatiality which have received limited attention in the relevant literatures to date. Critical contributions to the growing literature on MSP from spatial planning scholars have argued for an in-depth reflexive engagement with MSP from a social science perspective. Kidd and Shaw (2014) critique the dominant instrumental if not technocratic view of MSP as a rational, technical process of universal applicability contending that marine spatial planning is ‘a social and political process that is inevitably highly differentiated and place-specific’ (2014, 2). We suggest that this critique is equally applicable to ICZM (and coastal management more broadly). Indeed, in spite of its longer history, the concept and practice of ICZM has generated remarkably little by way of critical social science research. At the same time, we argue for increased attention to the material dimension of coastal management and its impacts on the physical geography of coastal landscapes, whether through the construction of dykes, sea walls and other physical infrastructures or the allocation of land and sea -uses. Normative perspectives on ICZM and MSP, focussed primarily on questions of governance, have to date led to a partial neglect of the physical materiality of coastal management (McFadden 2007, 2008).

It is evident that there are marked differences in the national and regional institutional contexts and frameworks within which coastal management is practiced across Europe. Coastal protection in Schleswig-Holstein in northern Germany may be considered as highly institutionalised occurring within a vertically-integrated governance structure where policy remits and competences are clearly delineated. In the neighbouring federal state of Lower Saxony, coastal protection draws on a long tradition of local community action organised through dyke associations. They continue to play an active role in the physical maintenance of the primary dyke line and cultural maintenance of a particular tradition of coastal protection. Practices of coastal protection have thus developed over many centuries and are embedded within the mentality and culture of local coastal communities (Fischer 2007, 2011). Indeed, experience at the German North Sea coast, indicates substantial resistance to change among coastal management practitioners, potentially constraining opportunities for developing and embracing innovative approaches (Rupp-Armstrong & Nicholls 2007). In this context, it is thus possible to speak of distinct cultures of practice, which have emerged within but are not reducible to distinct national institutional, legislative and cultural contexts.

The concept of landscape can usefully serve to address the social and cultural values and framing implicated in the physical geography and materiality of coastal management from a social science perspective. Coastal management practices are instrumental in landscape change both in a physical and cultural sense. Adopting a situated perspective on coastal management implies that coastal management is materially and culturally situated in the landscape and reflects on its values. Drawing on constructivist approaches to landscape research we furthermore recognise that distinct sectoral institutional systems and discourse coalitions can lead to the simultaneous occurrence of multiple and conflicting constructions or framings of landscape and seascape in the same physical geographical area. Approached from this perspective the concept of landscape provides an important analytical link between aspects of materiality and the intangible aspects of spatiality.

Beyond Geography Matters: Paper presented at the German Congress for Geography

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.

Coastal Landscapes and the Spatial Separation of Nature and Culture

As sociologists of science such as Bruno Latour (1991) and critical political ecologists have persuasively argued, the separation of nature and culture is an artifact of modern society which does not hold up to closer scrutiny. In a forthcoming workshop paper, I argue that nature protection practices are implicated in the creation and perpetuation of a spatial separation of ‘nature’ and ‘culture’ which may hinder the development of adaptive approaches to the management of socio-ecological systems.

I will present the paper (abstract below) at the forthcoming workshop of the German working group on landscape research (Arbeitskreis Landschaftsforschung). The workshop is organised by Kira Gee (University of Liverpool) and Martin Döring (University of Hamburg) and will take place at the Institute of Geography in Hamburg. The workshop focuses on sea, coast and river landscapes and aims to explore theoretical, methological, planning and empirical aspects. (The German title is: Meeres-, Küsten- und Flusslandschaften: Theoretische, methodische, planungspraktische und empirische Zugänge für die Analyse von Wasserlandschaften). My own paper represents the first, conceptual output of my new reseach focus on metageographies and spatial frames in coastal management which will focus empirically on the trialteral Wadden Sea region extending from Esbjerg in Denmark to Den Helder in the Netherlands abd encompassing the North Sea coasts of Schleswig-Holstein and Lower Saxony in northern Germany.

Wadden Sea

Figure: The Wadden Sea, Common Wadden Sea Secretariat (2010) Wadden Sea Plan, p. 57,

The role of culturally embedded metageographies in the socio-spatial compartmentalisation of nature and culture: Insights from the Wadden Sea Region

Cormac Walsh

Our understanding and perception of the social world is underlain by culturally embedded spatial structures or metageographies which help us at an unconscious level to order our knowledge of the world. Research in political geography and spatial planning has pointed to the dominance of state-centric ‘container space’ metageographies in shaping the underlying geography of both the social sciences and planning practice. This paper examines the role of such metageographies in the construction of another form of container space; that of the trilateral Wadden Sea as a bounded space located in front of the dyke-protected coastline. In this context, a sharp spatial distinction has been established between a natural landscape in front of the dykes and a cultural landscape behind the dykes. This distinction, although in practice contested, continues to play a significant role in the institutional-discursive construction of the Wadden Sea Area and Region. The paper argues for greater attention to the ways in which nature and culture become separated in the discursive construction and institutionalisation of landscapes and the role of underlying metageographies in the production and reproduction of the socio-spatial compartmentalisation of nature and culture.