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.

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.

Soft spaces across the Fehmarnbelt: Territorial Re-shaping and Cross-border Region-building

The following abstract was submitted to the Regional Studies Association European Conference: Shape and be Shaped: The Future Dynamics of Regional Development, Tampere, Finland, May 2013:

Soft spaces across the Fehmarnbelt: Territorial Re-shaping and Cross-border Region-building 

This paper examines the role of soft and hard spaces in processes of region-building across the Fehmarn Belt between northern Germany and Denmark. Recent contributions to the spatial planning and new regionalism literatures highlight the role of non-statutory, soft spatialities and unusual geographies in processes of sub-national and transnational regionalisation in Europe. Indeed, the recent promotion of transnational regional spaces in Europe may be interpreted in terms of the emergence of a qualitatively distinct aspirational territoriality based on explicitly European normative objectives and policy aspirations. Territorialist spatial imaginaries, nevertheless, continue to inform the politics underlying processes of soft space strategy-making and governance at multiple scales, potentially undermining their capacity to break of existing state-centric, ‘container space’ metageographies. From a critical perspective, however, transnational soft spaces raise significant accountability and legitimacy issues and highlight the need to reconsider contemporary models of democratic governance and their application in post-national contexts where the traditional, spatial congruence of state, society and economy no longer holds.

According to its promoters, the Fehmarnbelt fixed link, scheduled to be operational from 2021, will provide a critical impulse for cross-border regional development with potential game-changing significance for the economic geography of northern Europe. This expectation and positive interpretation is, however, not shared by all interested parties and critical uncertainties and value judgements regarding environmental costs and the balance between local, regional and European costs and benefits make any objective economic evaluation difficult. At the local level negative impacts are anticipated as other trade and passenger routes become less competitive and potentially cease operation. There are also serious environmental concerns relating to the ecology of the Fehmarnbelt (an important meeting point between the Baltic and North Seas) and the impacts of the proposed transport connections in Northern Germany. Within this context, cross-border cooperation initiatives involving political, administrative and business actors in various constellations are concerned with the development of the ‘mental bridges’ required for the formation of a new cross-border region.

This meta-regional cooperation space, stretching from Hamburg to Copenhagen and Öresund is characterised by a plurality of soft spatial concepts at multiple scales and with variable boundaries, constructed through elements of territorial, scalar, network and place-based geographies. Drawing on the analysis of qualitative interview data and policy documentation, the paper will examine the soft spaces of cross-border cooperation, as one element of a complex spatial governance landscape where territorial and relational, hard and soft forms of space interact in the socio-political construction of the cross-border region at multiple scales. The paper will furthermore critically examine the (post)politics of this transnational regional-building process, and in particular, the pervasive influence of dominant neoliberal discourses of international competitiveness.

The paper is co-authored with Marta Jacuniak-Suda, Frank Othengrafen and Jörg Knieling (all HafenCity University Hamburg) and draws on case study research conducted under the Soft Spaces, Spatial Planning and Territorial Management in Europe research project. It will hopefully be presented under Gateway G: Territorial Politics and Policy, chaired by Gordon Macleod and John Harrison.

Crossing the Fehmarnbelt: A New Transnational Region in the Making

A blogpost for The Regional Studies Blog

Commencing operation in 2021, a new tunnel will provide the final piece in the jigsaw linking the city of Hamburg in Germany to Copenhagen in Denmark and Malmö in Sweden which together form the STRING region. This fixed link will complement the existing bridge crossing the Öresund strait between Denmark and Sweden which opened to traffic in July 2000.
The Fehmarn link, together with related investments in the connecting road and rail transport networks in both Denmark and Germany is of game-changing significance for the economic geography of Northern Europe bringing Scandinavia another step closer to the centre of Europe. Significant economic benefits are expected at the regional scale as new opportunities for cooperation, trade and tourism emerge. At the local level, however, negative impacts are anticipated as other trade and passenger routes become less competitive and potentially cease operation. The tunnel alone will not bring about economic, social or cultural integration.
 STRING
The Fehmarnbelt Region (courtesy of STRING)
Indeed a wide range of political and economic cooperation initiatives are already actively seeking to build the required ‘mental bridge’ and turn the Fehmarnbelt Region into a reality . The commitment of political, economic and administrative actors was demonstrated in force through a series of events held between 26th and 28th September in Lübeck and Hamburg. The so-called Fehmarnbelt Days included an official dinner where the European Commissioner for Transport was the guest of honour along with senior policy-makers from Germany, Denmark and Sweden.
Other events however had a more public focus with an ‘Idea Factory’ with over 300 participants and many opportunities for networking among businesspeople and development organisations. Perhaps the most important lesson from the Fehmarnbelt Days and the associated cooperation initiatives is that the prospect of the fixed link has already provided the impulse for closer cooperation in economic, cultural and social political spheres which indeed to a large extent does not depend on the tunnel itself.