Environmental Policy as a Driver of Spatial Thinking?

A blogpost for The Regional Studies Blog

Researchers and practitioners in the field of regional studies have long promoted spatial approaches to policy, development and the application of public sector resources. In Europe, concepts such as territorial cohesion, place-based approaches and integrated spatial planning all promote spatial sensitivity in policy-making and are critical of the ‘spatial blindness’ of approaches which do not explicitly take the spatial dimension into account. Within the European context, spatial approaches to policy are concerned with spatial inequalities, the spatial impacts of sectoral policies and regional diversity. A central concern is how to work with deal with processes which cross the political and administrative boundaries of nation-states, whether at international or sub-national levels. How do policy-makers deal with functional regions which cross the borders of two or more administrative territories?
Recently, however environmental policy has become a significant driver of spatial thinking in Europe and elsewhere (see recent reports from the European Environment Agency). Through the requirements of Strategic Environmental Assessment for example, policy-makers and practitioners are required to consider the ‘upstream’ and ‘downstream’ environmental impacts of intended projects and policy measures. It is perhaps within the area of water resource management, however that the adoption of spatial approaches is most advanced. The EU Water Framework Directive introduced in 2000 requires the river basin to be adopted as the principal unit of management, regardless of whether the resulting river basin districts cross international, regional or local administrative boundaries. More than ten years later, practitioners are still struggling to adapt to the requirements of the river basin management approach and the need to ‘think outside the box’ which this implies. Nevertheless river basin management is an important, innovative example of a spatial approach in policy and practice which should perhaps receive more attention from the regional studies community.

Spatial Justice and the Crisis of Regional Development Theories

A Blogpost for the Regional Studies Blog
The 2012 Regional Studies Association Early Career Conference took place on 1st and 2nd November at HafenCity University in Hamburg. The conference under the title of Times of Change: Future Directions in Geography, Urban and Regional Studies examined the implications of the current economic and financial crisis for future of regional studies.  Individual sessions covered a wide range of specific topics including finance, innovation, place branding, resilience and sustainability, territorial inequalities and regional governance.
 RSA ECA Conf Hamburg
Enrique Garcilazo (OECD) , Costis Hadjimichalis and Pedro Marques, Final Plenary Session, RSA Early Career Conference, Hamburg 2nd November 2012.

The conference ended with a provocative final keynote address from Professor Costis Hadjimichalis (Harokopio University, Athens) who argued for the need to evaluate the contemporary crisis from the perspective of urban and regional studies. He highlighted in particular the underlying geography of spatially uneven capitalist development at the root of the current economic and financial crisis in Europe.  His contribution challenged the conference participants to re-examine the politics of mainstream neoliberal economic theory and its spatial implications. He suggested that we need to ask ourselves if we are satisfied with uneven development and social and spatial injustice.

 Prof. Hadjmichalis further claimed that there is an evident crisis of regional economic theory, as many of the models of the pre-crisis period have been found to be wanting. Significantly, however, he argues that there has been a notable silence from the proponents of such models and as yet, the required re-evaluation and critical re-appraisal has still to occur. For the author of this blog post, his talk provided a very important reminder of the need to constantly critically reflect on the silences within our research and the need to address critical questions of uneven development and social and spatial injustice. His talk was in part based on a recent paperpublished in European Urban and Regional Studies.
The  Early Career Conference was attended by 60 early career researchers (mostly PhD students) from 18 countries. Together with the journal Regional Insights and Early Career Grant Scheme, the early career conference is a key element of the RSA’s strategy to support researchers in the early stages of their careers.  Indeed we hope to see papers based on some of the conference presentations in future issues of Regional Insights. The conference was organised by Dr. Tim Heinemann of HafenCity University, Hamburg and Dr. Pedro Marques of Kiel University.

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.
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.