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.

Advertisements

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.

Rethinking the Spatiality of Spatial Planning

Rethinking the Spatiality of Spatial Planning: Methodological Territorialism and Metageographies, European Planning Studies (online first)

This paper, accepted by European Planning Studies in Ocotber 2012 and now available in the ‘latest articles’ section online is my most theoretical paper to date, as indeed the title might indicate. The empirical work it draws on, is drawn primarily from my PhD research on strategic spatial planning for the Dublin-city region. The focus here is on the territorial politics (or perhaps, local scale geopolitics) of spatial planning. It is well-known perhaps that  ‘localism’ is a key feature of Irish planning and development practice. But what do we mean by ‘localism’ precisely? What type of geograhical associations does localism in spatial planning apply?

This paper contributes to partially answering these questions – although admittedly using more convoluted/technical/precise? terminology. Specifically the focus is on the influence of ideas of politically-bounded territorial space on the representation of space in spatial planning documents and in the spatial politics or discourses of political representatives associated with the planning processes for the city-region. In this case, county boundaries represent the dominant spatial imaginary or ‘metageography’. At the same time, however, processes of strategic spatial planning seek to introduce new ways of thinking about relations across space, based on ideas of fucntional geography and to smoe extent relational space. This ‘soft space’ approach is however constrained by the dominant territorial imaginaries which continue to focus on the political and administrative boundaries rather than functional relations.

The paper has gone through a long process with many iterations along the way. Previous versions were presented at the Regional Studies Association Annual International Conference in Pecs, Hungary and at a European Urban Research Association workshop in Oslo (both in May 2010). A working paper version was also published as part of the NIRSA working paper series  in November 2010.

Published Abstract

This paper argues for increased attention to the role of territory and territoriality in framing sociospatial discourses in the context of spatial plan making. In particular, it is suggested that the engagement of political actors with processes of spatial planning tends to be framed within particular spatial imaginaries which reflect established political-administrative and territorial boundaries. It is contended that a critical analysis of the territorial framing of processes of spatial planning is necessary in order to understand the capacity for spatial strategies to effectively challenge and reconfigure established sociospatial imaginaries in functional or relational terms. It is suggested that spatially explicit public policy statements, such as planning strategies, may be characterized by specific assumptions of territorial space, in a similar manner to which mainstream social science has contained implicit assumptions of state-centrism. The salience of territorial spatial imaginaries is demonstrated in the case of European spatial planning and through a local case study of city-regional spatial planning and politics in the Greater Dublin Area.

Creating a Space for Cooperation: Soft spaces, spatial planning and territorial cooperation on the Island of Ireland

The following abstract was submitted yesterday to the AESOP/ACSP Conference at University College Dublin, which will take place in July:

Creating a Space for Cooperation: Soft spaces, spatial planning and territorial cooperation on the Island of Ireland

Cross-border and multi-jurisdictional institutional contexts present particular challenges for spatial planning and add to the complexity of spatial planning tasks (see Weith 2012). Given the constraints of working beyond the territorial boundaries of a nation-state, processes of spatial planning in transnational contexts often work with soft instruments and a tentative, politically sensitive approach to the representation of cross-border spaces in policy documents (Faludi 2010). This paper demonstrates that spatial strategy-making can, however, play a key role in the process of shaping and reshaping the spatial imaginaries underlying public-policy and thus the framing of government responses to the challenges and opportunities of cross-border cooperation.

 This paper examines the role of soft spaces of cross-border cooperation and spatial planning in evolving processes of spatial governance on and for the island of Ireland.  The concept of soft spaces refers to non-statutory spatialities. They are specific social constructions of space which lie outside the political-administrative boundaries and internal territorial divisions of the nation-state (Allmendinger & Haughton 2010). Processes of strategic spatial planning, working through soft spaces at multiple scales have played a significant role in the renegotiation of the spatial relationship between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland in the period of relative political stability since the cessation of armed conflict in Northern Ireland in the 1990s (Murray 2004). Drawing on the analysis of qualitative interview data and policy documentation, the paper will examine the role of spatial planning in reconfiguring territorial spatial imaginaries and developing a new policy vocabulary of functional and relational geographies. The paper also highlights the complexity of the spatial governance arrangements in this cross-border context and reflects on the implications of a continued dominance of territorialism among local scale actors (see also Walsh 2012).

The paper will hopefully be presented under Track 10: International Planning, Cross-border and Inter-regional Cooperation, chaired by Andreas Faludi (Delft) and Neema Kudva (Cornell).

The paper draws on case study research conducted under the Soft Spaces, Spatial Planning and Territorial Management in Europe research project, led by Joerg Knieling and Frank Othengrafen at HCU Hamburg. It also, however, builds on previous work conceptual and applied research work conducted at UCD, NIRSA and for ICLRD.

Undersupply and Oversupply in the Irish Housing Market: A Closer Look at the Greater Dublin Area

Originally Published on Ireland After NAMA

The NIRSA Working Paper, A Haunted Landscape’ provides an analysis of the current situation of oversupply in the Irish housing market, focussing in particular on the uneven geography of housing development and so-called ghost estates as a very visible and tangible manifestation of the housing crisis.

Ronan Webster of CB Richard Ellis, speaking at the Irish Planning Institute Autumn Conference last week characterised recent trends in housing development in Ireland in terms of a shift from a perception of undersupply to a perception of oversupply. Indeed the Bacon reports of the late 1990s and much official and academic commentary since have pointed to a situation of very significant undersupply in the Dublin Region in particular. It has been widely argued that the undersupply in the Dublin market has contributed to the displacement of urban-generated residential development to the Mid-East region and further afield in ‘Outer Leinster’ (see Society of Chartered Surveyors Housing Study).  A Haunted Landscape, in the contrast, finds that residential development in Dublin City and Dun Laoghaire Rathdown (and Cork City) was far in excess of demand, while housing in Fingal, Kildare, Meath, Wicklow and South Dublin was ‘in line with demand’.

Clearly different notions of undersupply (and by inference optimum supply) are at play here. From a social equity or planning policy perspective it is evident that there was an undersupply of suitable residential development in Dublin City and Dun Laoghaire Rathdown. This undersupply coupled with highly inflated and unaffordable prices inevitably contributed to the displacement of housing development beyond the boundaries of the Dublin metropolitan area. The characterisation of the housing situation in Dublin as one of oversupply betrays the influence of reductionist economics thinking but also reflects a spatial blindness. Housing supply in Dublin and Dun Laoghaire Rathdown cannot be understood in isolation from the analysis of housing supply in the Mid-East Region and wider Dublin housing and commuter catchment areas.  The high demand for housing in the Mid-East Region and associated unprecedented pace and scale of development over the housing boom period may in large part be understood as the consequence of the undersupply of appropriate (i.e. family friendly and affordable) housing in the Dublin Region. Planning policy as articulated at national, regional and local scales in fact strongly supported the concentration of residential development within the Metropolitan Area of Dublin and the designated development centres in the surrounding hinterland area (see map below). It is the failure of the State (central and local government) to provide the necessary infrastructure, services and regulation to support socially sustainable residential development within the Dublin Region that has led to the perverse situation of reported oversupply in the Dublin City and Dun Laoghaire Rathdown and supply in line with demand in neighbouring Hinterland counties. In order to fully understand the social, economic and political geography of Ireland After NAMA, we need to move away from interpretations of statistical data which serve to reinforce the fallacies of methodological territorialism (see Neil Brenner – New State Spaces…), where counties and other administrative units are understood as distinct spatial entities.

Constructing a geography of flows and functional relationships creates challenges in terms of data gathering and analysis but must be seen as a neccessary step in highlighting the evident deficits in dominant aspatial and terrritorial interpretations.

 

Regional Planning Guidelines for the Greater Dublin Area (2004) Settlement Strategy