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.

Sustainable Land Management as a Research Priority

The 2013 Status Conference of the German research programme: Sustainable Land Management (Nachhaltiges Landmanagement) took place between 17th and 19th April in Berlin. The ambitious research programme seeks to develop new innovative approaches to address challenges of sustainable land management in Germany, from an integrated, transdisciplinary approach. It is funded to the tune of approximately €100 million by the Research for Sustainable Development programme (FONA) of the Federal Ministry for Education and Research over the period 2010-2015. Although the conference was internal to the research programme participants numbered approximately 500, representing the full range of funded projects, spanning the physical and social sciences as well as practitioner stakeholders, who play a key role in the transdisciplinary research approach.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the precise meaning of sustainable land management is the subject of significant debate, with multiple disciplinary perspectives and varying stresses on each of the three elements, sustainable, land and management. The objective, however is to develop approaches which are broader than existing practice in the individual disciplines of  land-use planning, property surveying and management, landscape, spatial and environmental planning and directly engage with stakeholder groups.

The research programme itself includes projects based both within Germany and internationally and aims to develop global as well as regional scale perspectives. I was involved, (with Prof. Jörg Knieling, HCU Hamburg) in moderating one session on international perspectives on governance which included papers/presentations from work in Namibia and Brazil as well as northeastern Germany (Session 40 in the official programme here). The international perspectives served to question Eurocentric perspectives concerning ideas of land use and in particular land ownership and highlighted the often complex relationships between customary and statutory legal traditions and practices. The German presentations, brought to light significant contradictions and ‘asymmetries’ in the institutional frameworks governing land-based resource management and protection in Europe. Such asymmetries are found to be particularly pronounced where user groups and stakeholders seek to introduce new sustainable management practices involved closed loop material and energy flows and where ‘use’ and ‘protection’ rationales are combined through multi-functional approaches.

Directly following this session, we delivered an interactive discussion section focussed on the topic of sustainable energy planning at the regional scale, provocatively asking the question of whether energy planning should be considered a task of spatial planning or a form of sectoral planning. A presentation on selected international approaches to sustainable land management (which we are sub-contracted to prepare an ‘expertise’ on) with potential relevance to the question of energy planning provided the key input to the discussion. From this international review it was clear that there are no ‘golden bullets’ and that governance and management approaches need to be developed within the context of the specific region in question, with regard to actor constellations, power relations, knowledge resources and framework conditions set at other scales. Of course this is what the research programme is in a sense trying to achieve with its transdisciplinary integrated approach. It will be very interesting to continue to follow the progress of the research programme and see what lessons are learned regarding both sustainable land management and transdisciplinary approaches to research. At some point it may be fruitful to compare the approach developed here to other experiences of practitioner involvement in applied research programmes, whether within Germany or elsewhere in Europe. Priority 2 projects under ESPON (2007-2013 Programme) come to mind as well as the vast and varied experience amassed under INTERREG to date.

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.

Territorial Cohesion and Inter-regional Financial Transfer Payments

A system of  financial transfer payments is employed in the Federal Republic of Germany as a means of compensating for substantial differences in the financial power of the federal states (Länder). For the year 2012, only three federal states, all located in southern Germany were net contributors while the remaining thirteen states were net recipients of funds under this mechanism. Two of the contributor states (Geberländer), Bavaria and Hessen have announced their intention to mount a consitutional challenge, arguing that the receiving states are not doing enough to cut back on public expenditure. This assertion is of course viewed very critically by the other state governments making it a topic of heated debate.

Länderfinanzausgleich

(source: Mitteldeutscher Rundfunk 5.02.2013, Notes: Federal states shaded ‘red’ are receivers of funds under this mechanism whereas those in blue are contributors. Mio = million, Mrd = thousand million – German Milliarden)

This debate raises issues of inter-regional solidarity and unity -what at the European level is referred to as territorial cohesion. Perhaps, not surprisingly, however, the current debate in Germany does not make reference to the concept of territorial cohesion and employs predominantly simplistic state-centric concepts of spatiality in its discourse. The prime minister of Saxony-Anhalt, however, pointed to the methodological territorialism of the current debate, noting that the simple black/white binary of contributing and receiving states obscured the reality of economic flows, which are substantially influenced by cross-boundary commuting flows (in different words, of course).

There has, been signficant debate and policy development within specific academic and policy communities on the role of spatial policy and planning in contributing to territorial cohesion and the German constitutional principle of equality of living conditions. Here, the concept of supra-regional partnerships of responsibility introduced in 2006 is particularly noteworthy. These large-scale cooperation areas,  each cross the boundaries of a number of federal states and are in part an attempt to identify functional partnership areas of cooperative responsibility or solidarity. Indeed, they may be viewed as counterbalance to the previously dominant focus in German spatial policy on metropolitan regions as the motors for economic growth and regional development. John Harrison and Anna Growe provide a detailed English-language account of these specific elements of federal spatial policy in Germany, focussing on the extent to which they embrace relational concepts of place.

German metropolitan regions and to a lesser extent supra-regional partnerships include some financial measures, often in the form of development funds which can support the development of infrastructure or networking capacity development projects. These measures focussed on cooperative regional development and in effect, territorial cohesion, in recent years have tended to play a secondary role, in comparison with the dominant economic profiling and competitiveness agendas of the metropolitan regions.

It is evident that mainstream debates concerning inter-regional financial statements lack spatial nuance and suffer from (federal)state-centric methodological territorialism.  The concept of territorial cohesion, has influenced federal spatial policy but the link with debates and policies regarding imbalances in the economic strength of German regions and federal states and associated compensatory financial transfers, appears to be missing.

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.