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:

regional-seas

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.

 

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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.