10 December, 2013

New Blog to Follow

The GreenRegio project, based at our Institute of Geography and Spatial Planning now has a website  up and running. There, you can follow the research progress that seeks to understand how transition processes towards low-carbon economies in the building sector come into being and develop over time in selected city regions. More specifically, they seek to develop ‘biographies’ of drivers and processes of green building innovations for four case studies: Freiburg (GER), Vancouver (CA), Luxembourg (LUX), and Brisbane (AUS).

20 November, 2013


We are pleased to announce that Prof. Dr. Marco Pütz from the Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research WSL will present his perspectives on current debates on sustainable governance at the Institute for Geography and Spatial Planning, University of Luxembourg. The talk will be followed by an open discussion.

17 November, 2013


Markus and Constance will be presenting this weekend at the annual conference of Spaces & Flows held this year at the University of Amsterdam.  The title of the presentation is,
The Space of Flaws -- On the Contradictions of Integrated Planning in a Fragmented Environment.

An abstract can be found here.

12 November, 2013


Markus Hesse has been invited to speak at the Harvard Graduate School of Design at the conference and exhibition on Airport Landscape: Urban Ecologies in the Aerial Age, November 15, 2013. His talk is entitled, "The Mental Infrastructures of Airport-Urban Development".  Click  here for the full programme.

04 November, 2013

IBA Basel - The first cross-border Internationale Bauaustellung

I am not sure what I should have expected.  Maybe I was expecting a neat little office with books everywhere and stacks of paper, computer screens, and cozy coffee mugs.  Instead, however, I was surrounded by hammering, ladders, lego, boxes, cables, and a rather frantic crew running around getting everything in place. This was the Internationale Bauaustellung (IBA) Basel a week before its opening - in a state of metamorphosis from a planning office to an exhibition.

On October 18th and 19th, IBA team invited the public to view the 43 projects around the region that were designed to inspire a new imaginary for, and bring some strategic functional cohesion to, the cross-border agglomeration of Basel -- a region otherwise divided across 226 Municipalities and three nations. Some impressions of the very well attended event can be found here.

There is much that can be criticized about IBAs as they have spouted up around Germany in recent years, just as Müller and I (Carr) did in Porter and Shaw's Whose Urban Renaissance? Such criticisms question whether IBAs are a crude form of urban marketing, or whether they constitute new forms of post-democratic urban development. Supporters of IBAs should do well not to forget such skepticism; however, the IBA model can also provide some openings in the public planning process that were not possible before.  IBAs can, for example, bring planning out of closed stodgy office buildings and into view, and within earshot, of those affected.  (This is the goal, for example, of the IBA Basel Roadshow.)  IBAs can also act as platforms where the imagination might be activated around questions such as: What can a metropolis look like?  What are the potentials of a given space and how can they be realized? How might the area be planned?  These were obviously urgent questions in and around Basel, where the functional flows of the area clearly indicate that some common cross-border planning and organization is in tall order.

The longer term role of the IBA, however, is less clear.  It is not really clear to anyone what the role an IBA should have with respect to traditional planning, even if normatively speaking, the IBA need only exist in addition to preexisting structures. Any given extra-governmental institution will find its limits, however, in terms of how many planning projects it can manage, and at some point it might be legitimate to raise the question of whether such practices could/should be considered governmental outsourcing. Given the variation in planning cultures across the world, this distinction seems flexible at best. The dizzying list of financiers and partners of the IBA Basel show that 43 projects is already a very impressive portfolio to manage. It leaves one wondering how it will carry forward. This leads to another problem: It is also not clear how commitment and funding from across the region can be secured, or how can co-operation be improved to ensure the appropriate support.  Lastly, for now at least, it is not clear what will happen after IBA has to pack up and close. The objective is clearly to trigger imagination, spark forward-thinking projects, and build lasting infrastructure that will steer development.  Many of these will last longer than the IBA itself, and the memory of IBA as a catalyzer of change will be inscribed. Planning and transformation, are however, not processes with  clear endpoints. Someone will have to carry the torch afterwards.  Who will that be and what will that look like?

A game to bring children into the planning process (photo taken at IBA Basel)

A space to discuss urban change (photo taken at IBA Basel) -- but really you should look at the pictures here where the chair are filled with people.

15 October, 2013

Virtual Tour of the Glatt, "Darum Raumplanung"

Here is an interview with the Zurich Canton Planner, Wilhelm Natrup, riding the Glatt Bahn (found on youtube):

10 October, 2013

Our Tour of the Glatt, Part I

On Monday afternoon, we toured the Glatt Valley with Marco Pütz (Eidgenössische Forschungsanstalt für Wald, Schnee und Landschaft, WSL). Until now, getting to know the Glatt from afar has posed its challenges, so seeing the area with our own eyes brought some much appreciated clarity, even if the parts that we saw represented only a small fraction of the entire region. We are most grateful to Dr. Pütz, too, who was also able to highlight some of the features of, and bring some context to, all that we were seeing.

Peri-urban? Suburban? Urban?  We consider these definition questions, and we look forward to the final publications and thoughts on this very question from Christian Schmid and his colleagues. However, it is certainly clear that the area at and just beyond the borders of the City of Zurich are undergoing change, rendering it a nice example of an edge city in the making.  Oerlikon is getting a new train station to offset the regional traffic that otherwise bores into the Zurich's main-station in the city centre. Between there and the Fernsehstudio/WTC, a long string of new office spaces are springing up gleaming shiny across from older City-owned allotment gardens.  The Glattpark - with a K - is not a "parc" at all, rather a concrete jungle of middle class midrises in becoming, and overlooking this construction site as it encroaches on the nation's most expensive wildflower lawn, is the SRF weather station. Viewers from all over the country can view the development of the area as backdrop to the daily weather report. Sticking primarily to the route of the brand new Glattal Bahn that hugs the borders of Zurich North, we whizzed by the iconic cloverleaf-enclosed Glattzentrum (its a 'mall world after all), and then afterwards down towards the Zwicky Areal.  There we saw the second Kraftwerk, and indeed, low and behold, some water. (Was it the Glatt? Not.). The tour finished with a final No. 12 glide to the slick new Stettbach that lay back within the bounds of the City of Zurich.

In the light of the field trip and the visual experience of the Glattal, the discussion we went through both before and after the excursion raises another point, also in comparative perspective: is there chaos or order in space? And, regardless what the outcome is considered to be, does it correspond to planning? Why do the seemingly different Luxembourg and Suisse city-regions actually look comparable, given the high amount of perceived disorder and local (municipal) autonomy, which obviously resists to the desire that they adapt to overarching rationales of spatial planning. In this respect, scale seems to be an essential category. OK, this might not be a shocker for geographers and planning theorists. However, it remains heroic to achieve an appropriate, accepted (!) governance structure that effectively deals with the mismatch between ever larger spaces of socio-economic activity and territorially bound legal responsibility -- not to speak of horizontal power conflicts that make this sort of visionary, comprehensive planning hard to imagine (see below the post on port cities and their struggle for localising impact).

We are sure that we only scratched the surface. But here are some visual impressions:

Cross-jurisdictional Governance under Growth Pressure: Contradictions, Possibilities and Limitations of Comparative Urban Study

A very big Thank you to the participants of our meeting last Monday (7. 10. 2013) at the ETH's  NSL – Netzwerk Stadt und Landschaft on Hönggerberg Campus. Thanks also to Christian Schmid of ETH, D'ARCH who played an active role in organizing the space for this small event.

It was a great pleasure to see everyone in one spot, an it was quickly very clear to us that this group represents a broad variety of expertise and valuable experience on the topic of governance, planning and practice in Luxembourg and Switzerland.  There is so much to learn and discover in these topics.  We look forward to meeting again.

This meeting was a kick-off to our 4 day visit to the area. In a later blog entry, we will report on our first impressions of the Glatt Valley.

The Agenda Was:
Markus Hesse, University of Luxembourg 
    Constance Carr, University of Luxembourg
    Sustainable Spatial Development in Agglomeration Luxembourg and in the Glatt Valley. 

    Dirk Lohaus, IBA Basel
    IBA Basel and the Future of a Trinational European Region 

    Rahel Nüssli, ETH D'ARCH
    Towards Post-politics In-between Cities: Urban Governance Arrangements in the Metropolitan Regions of Zurich 

    Reto Nebel, ETH Spatial Planning
    Siedlungspotenziale für eine Siedlungsentwicklung nach Innen 

    Marco Putz, Eidg. Forschungsanstalt für Wald, Schnee und Landschaft, WSL

    Lunch and More Discussion

    26 September, 2013

    Readings on the Glatt Valley

    We have been doing a lot of reading lately, trying to get a grip on this region composed of 15-20 Municipalities across 3-4 Districts of the Kanton of Zurich, wedged in an around two airports, and parading a new tramway.  We've been searching out publications that discuss the Glatt Valley specifically.

    Relevant publications, so far, include:

    11 September, 2013

    Contemporary (port-) regions: no endings, no beginnings?

    Maritime industries in general and port cities in particular are increasingly becoming subjects of sustainability discourses. Port authorities are preparing strategies, reviews, and reports on sustainable development. ‘The port of Antwerp aims to position itself as a leader in sustainability in the Hamburg-Le Havre range’ (Port of Antwerp et al. 2010, p. 9). There is also an increasing interest among city officials of host cities on finding ways to maintain the economic benefits of resident ports while at the same time protecting sensitive marine or fluvial environments and reducing toxic emissions in proximate urban areas. Such questions were the reasoning behind the “Port-Cities Programme” launched by the Organisation of Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), running from 2010 to 2013. The OECD currently has 34 member countries – mostly from the industrial world – and is devoted to promoting economic growth and well-being through intergovernmental collaboration. With a certain emphasis placed on competitiveness, the Port-Cities Programme aimed at exploring and comparing urban and port development affairs in 10 major port cities around the world. Among the case-study cities were Amsterdam and Rotterdam (NL), Hamburg (DE), Helsinki (FI), the Seine-Axis between Le Havre and Paris, or Marseille (F), and Mersin (TUR).

    The findings, now compiled into a synthesis report and throughout a variety of urban and topical case studies, are available on the above OECD’s programme website. Selected results were also presented earlier this week (9 September 2013) at a conference in Rotterdam, where they could be jointly discussed and commented on by port representatives, policy-makers, and urban planners (both academics and practitioners). As I had contributed to the Hamburg case study at an earlier stage of the programme, I was curious to learn how the overall results were perceived by port people and policy makers.

    The conference took place on Koop van Zuid, one of the 1990s flagship urban waterfront development projects in Europe. The picture shows the rather recent Erasmusbridge crossing the river Meuse (M. Hesse, 9 Sep 2013)

    Why post this here?
    The study of ports is plainly distinct from SUSTAIN_GOV’s research agenda that targets governance processes in small-scale city regions of land-locked countries (such as Glattal in Switzerland or Luxembourg City; see Carr/Hesse 2013). However, the debates that evolved from the conference papers and panel discussions revealed some stunning insights into contemporary approaches to spatial planning and governance – particularly in regards to conceptions of space and territory that were brought to the fore, indirectly, if not also explicitly. The conceptions mirror the contested and thus contradictory nature of today’s maritime businesses, where local actors are competing on a wide globalized playing field, and concomitantly, they are based on a sort of essentialist understanding of space and region as fixed, bounded, and with clear endings and beginnings.

    In this context, a really inspiring controversy – rarely happening at major events where public officials, corporate CEOs and policy celebrities meet – sparked from one important finding of the report. The study revealed that, on average, circa 90% of the benefits generated by major seaports are spread across a much broader territory, whereas the negative impacts tend to be concentrated within the port cities themselves. (Details can be found on pages 7 and 29ff. of the above synthesis report; the set of references consulted is rather large). This effect, or ‘mismatch’ as it is named in the OECD report, is on the one hand due to the increasing degree of interconnectedness of the various segments of global value-chains, compared to the localized or spatially clustered type of value-creation. The late-modern economic world is both local and global, is increasingly part of broader trade systems and networks, and even though it seems far from being placeless, there are systemic difficulties for local actors to adapt to global imperatives (such as hosting ever bigger ships, providing assets and infrastructure etc.). It thus seems increasingly problematic to assign value creation to single places, in order to generate certain local benefits from this global activity.

    On the other hand, there are indeed negative impacts emerging from certain nodal points (such as airports, seaports), once they are economically successful. These impacts are unavoidably associated with the concentration of passengers, goods, and economic activities at particular locales. Sea ports do represent a prototypical case here: Recent strategies in the competition among major mainports were primarily focusing on maximizing throughput (i.e. of containers) and thus generated profit simply by attracting an ever growing demand for cargo handling into their port. Such strategies, however, may only materialize at a certain cost. The consequences include environmental problems (most notably air pollution emerging from cargo and cruise ships’ emissions), noise emissions, land take, traffic jams, and the degradation of sensitive harbor areas, all of which emerge locally and also along major transport corridors.

    Given the systemic contradiction between local and global dynamics and determinants, some representatives of port authorities and port regions at the Rotterdam conference were obviously not very pleased about the mismatch thesis. They suggested that – at least in their particular case – a much higher share of a port’s output would remain in the host city (without presenting evidence). They argued that their port provided significant economic benefits (e.g. tax revenues, jobs, and multiplier effects), and that these were much higher in their case than was presented in the OECD report. A second position further argued that it wouldn’t make a difference where a certain benefit emerges, as long as such a benefit emerges at all.

    From an academic point of view, this is quite an exciting discourse (to me, at least) because it confronts different conceptual readings of territory and spatial governance. For policy-makers, however, it offers some irritations, and this discontent is central if one considers that political, fiscal, and administrative responsibilities are still organized alongside the boundaries of demarcated spatial units. In the case of port cities, political-administrative units represent the city as such, and not the surrounding region or other areas along the chain where related added value is being created (cf. the issue of port regionalization). This is a dilemma of increasing importance and urgency for local authorities and policies, as the spaces of value creation have only broadened, and the power of big players such as shipping lines or terminal operators over local port policies out has only grown.

    One could argue, as new regionalists tend to do, that this is just a case of the city-region – a wider orbit where economic activities take place and thus related earnings have to be, first, generated and, second, distributed. But this is the point: many juridical systems do not allow this or do not provide the sharing mechanisms for getting into such practice. Local policy officials have to justify their decisions (e.g. on costly port expansion, environmentally sensitive river dredging, or public-private engagement in infrastructure provision) against their local councils – regardless how much of that is funded by state or supra-national bodies. Responsibilities are still assigned to local bodies, and devolution has recently brought a certain sense of subsidiarity into these systems, thus shifting power and resources in many cases from state to regional or local levels.

    Two lessons arise from these debates and observations: The tensions between global flows and local places need a careful discussion (and analysis!) of the benefits and burdens that arise from related activities. First, neither is a mainport still a machine that automatically generates an overall benefit for its host city, thus justifying any expense for ensuring further growth of the system to be covered locally, nor can this problem be easily solved at the regional level, where clear political responsibility is still lacking in the large majority of cases. There is, however, good reason to collaborate: For instance by port-city twinning or by practicing regionalism. The more maritime activities and port functions tend to move outward, the higher will be the need for port city and region to collaborate. This also means that mainport and core city authorities might remain primus inter pares in this complex interplay, yet should no longer treat its neighbours as being subordinate. Second, as a more general conclusion, contemporary power asymmetries or anomalies will increasingly have to be taken into account while studying urban and regional development. This requires, in rather generic terms, a proper recognition of the multi-layer, multi-scalar, and multi-level nature of the problem that is at stake here; and the same applies, of course, to the related nature of governance, as a coordinating mechanism that needs to overcome horizontal boundaries and various vertical levels of political decision-making.

    This is where the  SUSTAIN_GOV research agenda comes in. Once studying spatial development and governance in Glattal and Luxembourg, the underlying concept of governance has to be sensitive against the complex setting in which these processes take place, and it must take care of the various benefits and burden that have arisen as a result of, or were associated with, the recent growth trajectory. City-regional developments tend to create highly dynamic, complex and interrelated systems, leading to a high degree of segmentation and fragmentation of live-worlds and socio-economic spaces; consequently, this applies to politics and planning as well (Cox 2010). As long as there are no adequate institutional bodies at the regional level established for taking care of this, however, state and municipalities, cantons and other stakeholders and also the interested public have to be included in complex constellations of communication and collaborative, negotiation and decision-making. Even though there is a large body of work from political science, geography or economics that can be consulted in such regards, there is no recipe available how to solve related conflicts. But they are actually existing, no doubt about it.

    Further readings:
    There is a lot of literature available on ports, particularly on port, urban and regional governance, the question of port-centric versus regionalized logistics, and how strong the binding ties between port and city still have to be considered in times of globalization. Below are a few sources listed. For maritime-urban affairs, the OECD Programme’s website is certainly highly recommended.

    Cox, K. 2010. The Problem of Metropolitan Governance and the Politics of Scale. Regional Studies 44(2), 215-222
    Hall, P. V., Hesse, M. (eds.) 2012. Cities, Regions and Flows. Oxford: Routledge
    Hall, P. V., Jacobs, W. 2012. Why are maritime ports (still) urban, and why should policy-makers care? Maritime Policy and Management 39(2), 189-206
    Hesse, M. (2013): Cities and flows: re-asserting a relationship as fundamental as it is delicate. Journal of Transport Geography 29, 33-42
    Journal of Transport Geography 27 (2013): Special issue on ‘Institutions and the transformation of transport nodes’
    Port of Antwerp, Maatschappij Linkerscheldeoever, Alfaport Antwerpen. 2010. Sustainability report – Duurzaamheitsverslag Haven Antwerpen. Antwerp