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.


Coastal landscapes as Boundary Spaces: Wadden Sea Dykes and the Materiality of Coastal Places

In January, I presented a paper at the fourteenth New Cultural Geographies Conference, hosted this year by the Karl-Franz University, Graz, Austria. The abstract is reproduced below. The paper sought to engage with recent debates on the place materiality, following the cultural turn in human geography.


Coastal land- and seascapes constitute liminal, boundary spaces, occupying fluid zones of transition, between the land and the sea (Leyshon 2015). Despite a long history of fixing coastlines on maps and charts, the boundary between the land and the sea defies precise measurement and is characterised by rhythms of change across multiple time-scales. In the context of global climate change, coasts are increasingly recognised to be vulnerable places facing uncertain futures. Understanding coastal places requires appreciation of the powerful material presence of the physical land and seascape and its influence on daily rhythms, local weather patterns and everyday spatial practices. Coastal places moreover are frequently characterised by historical narratives of struggle against the sea, histories of the loss of land and its retaking through material spatial practices of dyking and land reclamation. Recognition of the particularity of coastal landscapes has led to historical and contemporary studies of coastal identity and place attachment among coastal communities (e.g. Fischer, N. 2007, Fischer, L. 2011, Ratter & Gee 2012). Recent contributions by McKinnon and Brennan (2012) and Gee (2015) among others, step across the boundary from the land to the sea providing new insights into the individual perception and social construction of places at the sea. In this context, place attachment to individual seascapes is understood to be influenced by the full range of sensory perceptions and emotional associations, including particular sounds, smells, and memories in addition to visual aspects (Gee 2015). Conceptually, the physical materiality of coastal places provides a counterpoint to contemporary constructivist and poststructural readings of space as relational, socially constructed and cosmopolitan (c.f. Massey 2009, Tomaney 2012). Attention to coastal places highlights the constraints set on the production of place imposed by the immediate physical environment and the need for accounts of the social construction of place to be grounded in the topography of the material landscape (Dirlik 2001, 22). Attention to coastal places furthermore invites a reconsideration of the influence of spatial boundaries and boundary features in the landscape in the structuring of place and space. The paper traces the role of dykes as materially and symbolically powerful boundary features of the Wadden Sea coastal landscape. The role of dykes in the material and conceptual separation of nature and culture into distinct domains is explored with reference to historical studies and contemporary policy debates on coastal and nature protection at the German Wadden Sea coast. It is argued that dykes, as material spatial structures have a profound influence on the structuring of the coastal landscape. Dykes as boundary lines of spatial separation, are instrumental in the socio-cultural separation of nature and culture into natural and cultural landscapes at the Wadden Sea coast. Material and institutional path-dependencies furthermore ensure the endurance of a particular paradigm of coastal protection, founded on the concept of a continuous fixed and uninterrupted, dyke-protected coastline.