Overcoming resource scarcity by implementing strategic regional plans through urban-regional development projects: a European perspective

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The objective of this paper is to highlight some preliminary findings of an ongoing research project (2016-2020) entitled “From Plans to Land Change: How Strategic Spatial Planning Contributes to the Development of Urban Regions” (CONCUR) in which the author, as a postdoc researcher, and the coauthor, as the project coordinator, are involved. The project is financed by the Swiss National Science Foundation and is based at the Swiss Federal Research Institute WSL in Switzerland. A team of circa 7 researchers investigates different aspects concerning how strategic planning contributes to the development of urban regions. In this paper, we argue that urban regions in Europe and beyond are currently encountering a range of challenges, such as providing a varied and efficient transportation network, affordable housing, green infrastructure, public spaces, and attractive investment conditions (Albrechts et al., 2017). In addition, a number of urban regions have been experiencing dynamic changes in the scale and scope of metropolitan governance (Zimmermann and Getimis, 2017), and new forms of flexible territorial governance arrangements have emerged (Oliveira, 2017). These economic, social and governance driven challenges unfold in a context of limited financial, human, infrastructural, land and ecological resources. The hypothesis of departure postulated in this paper is that urban regions, in a scenario of limited resources, have been implementing strategic spatial plans through area-specific and functionally-oriented urban-regional development projects (URDP). Examples of such projects include the repurposing of outdated harbour, industrial or railway facilities, the reconfiguration of green infrastructures, the reinforcement of the public transportation network and the development of new residential areas. This is a claim in line with that of Tiwari and Winters (2016), who argue that “strategic planning today is used to determine where a project will be in the future” (p. 2). These authors also argue that one of the reasons that public administrations adopt a more intensively project-based approach to spatial planning is that governments are cash-strapped and must therefore prioritize capital-intensive actions in a market-sensitive environment (Tiwari and Winters, 2016). Carmona et al. (2009) underline that strategic planning is seen as the best means for an urban region to take advantage of the opportunities of globalization; and urban projects are the chief mechanism for implementing a futuristic vision of a global-oriented strategy. Urban development projects exist in urban regions with very different histories and development levels (Cohen, 1966), from Europe (Meijsmans, 2007) to elsewhere in the world (Carmona et al. 2009). Fast-track plan implementation through projects has been criticized, however, because these projects are often linked to neo-liberal aspirations of the entrepreneurial city (Moulaert et al., 2001). Other scholars decry the poor integration of urban projects in wider spatial planning processes (Swyngedouw et al., 2002).
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