29 November, 2014

Sector Plans cancelled

RTL and Luxemburger Wort (November 29, 2014, Politik und Gesellschaft, p. 2) reported today that the Sector Plans have been cancelled. The Gambia coalition stressed that they were not unhappy with the general guideline; rather, the central problem was in the Spatial Planning Law of July 30, 2013. In particular, Article 19 needed revision or deletion. Furthermore, the government appreciates the constructive feedback from the municipalities. Many of these were posted earlier this month on this blog (See Municipal Views on the Sector Plans).
Two interesting points come up here: First, this is the preliminary endpoint of something that was foreseeable since the plans were introduced to the public earlier this Summer, since it became rather clear for both substantial and procedural reasons that this sort of orthodox spatial planning would never be realised under real-world conditions. Second, it's certainly not the law, primarily, that made the plans crashing down, but the discrepancy between the desire to order the world on the one hand, and the flawed imagination of whether such order is desirable and possible at all (in development terms, politically) on the other hand.
Most ironically though, the conservative party - which has ruled the country for decades and whose administration was solely responsible for the the plans' contents and procedures - now pretends to appreciate the halt to the plans announced by the Gambia coalition, and makes suggestions on what best should be done right now. This is nothing else but hypocrite.

Cherries from Chile to China

The Luxembourg Cargo-Centre, with warehouse space centre and right, and the new Freeport to the left upper corner; Source: Evan McDonough, 2014

Press releases have revealed recently that the Luxembourg-based logistics corporation Cargolux, one of the major freight-only carriers in this business world-wide (currently Europe’s no. 1), has transported fresh cherries from Santiago, Chile, to Zhengzhou, China. The load of about 725 tons was divided across six aircraft shipments that were routed from Santiago, Chile via the Luxembourg Cargo-Centre at Findel airport, to Zhengzhou in the province of Henan, Central China. This trip stretches more than 20,000 km across the globe (ca. 12,000 km between South America and Western Europe, and another 8,000 from Europe to China). Zhengzhou was recently added to the Cargolux-network, after the Province took over a 35% share of the firm that was initially held by the Qatar government. Cargolux now plans to operate a sort of dual-hub concept between Western Europe and China, hoping to spark the ignition of regular business relations with mainland China. (According to the company’s PR department, coastal destinations such as Hong Kong have already been served by Cargolux since as early as 1970).

The cherry-load is reported to generate a certain market potential for exporters and air-freight businesses, as more and more Chinese are getting accustomed to consuming fresh fruits from all over the world. According to another press release, about 50% of all Chilean exports are expedited to China. In this context, flying cherries to the other end of the world seems to be a proper indicator of the rising living standards in the Far East – a step closer towards global distributive justice, if you want. However, this phenomenon could also be discussed in terms of sustainability, where so called “freight miles” or “food miles”, respectively understood as the long distance supply of consumer goods and perishables such as produce, exotic vegetables, fruits etc., are suspicious of adding to the environmental burden of the modern, increasingly globalised consumer society. They also played a role in critical accounts of free trade agreements (Lang & Hine 1993, p.61).

Two particular points come into play here. Firstly, freight miles and the international if not global division of labour have led to an emerging claim for a spatial reconfiguration of the economy. In the context of an increasing awareness of food security and sustainability, the associated new geography of food is expected to be a local and regional one. It is based on closed-circuit systems of supply and demand, thus borrowing from older ideas of self-sufficiency and regional autonomy (see Kohr 1976). In so doing, one aims to overcome the various externalities associated with the exchange of commodities at large scale. Food seems to be a central resource in this discourse, also indicated by the rising number of initiatives that promote organic food production, regional supply systems, or urban gardening.

It is, however, all but clear that these regional systems can prove to be environmentally beneficiary in all cases (see e.g. Donald et al. 2010, and the special journal issues on this topic in CJERS 2010 or IPS 2009, and Winter’s progress reports on the geography of food systems in PiHG 2003-2005). Human geographers have already pointed at the essentialist notion of space that is conveyed in such imaginations, since it is rather unlikely that open systems may be effectively downsized to the regional or local scales (Born & Purcell 2006). This might be the case at least as long as today’s ubiquitous mobilities remain at work. Environmental analyses have also revealed that the greenhouse gas-emissions of major food chains are only partly a result of transport, and most are due to core production processes and related energy consumption (Weber & Matthews 2008). Furthermore, in some cases long-distance exports are the only possibility for developing countries to cultivate a presence in commodity markets, while replacing these products with local commodities and buying practices would reduce climate impacts in only limited extents (McGregor & Vorley 2007). Last but not least, there are certain “ecologies of scale” that have to be taken into account here; that is, the efficiency gains provided by the shipment of large consignments (e.g. in standard containers on ocean vessels) even at greater distances can have a positive impact on the environment – when compared to the less well organised local and regional distribution systems, which often lack a critical mass for efficient operations (Watkiss et al. 2005). The literature is vast here, and the degree of differentiation is, of course, rather high; so, on the one hand, one must be cautious. On the other hand, the common belief that local and regional cycles would always, and automatically, be better or more sustainable than large-scale systems of provision – can be questioned.

Secondly, the changing attitude of consumers towards sustainability, in concert with associated forms of regulation, may threaten the business model of small states that often depend on circulation. As these micro-entities are too small to develop their own export basis, many of them have specialised in niche-economic activities, performing as enclave economic spaces, if you want. The Grand Duchy of Luxembourg is no exception here (Hesse 2014a). It seems to be a template case of wealth accumulation by circulation, a prototypical hub city or country – small but highly connected. As we all know, the related flows in the country’s portfolio are huge. They include, still most important, money and the associated services, in a range of activities which is much broader than it was recently revealed by the investigative press (if one looks at investment funds, insurances and the like, not only tax evasion). Yet, what flows is also information and high-tech communication; a broad variety of consumer goods, pharmaceuticals, and machinery carried by air freight; the mere cross-border sales of petrol and tobacco; and more recently, a certain range of highest-value commodities stored for the super wealthy in a protected, tax-free warehouse called Freeport.

One could imagine that policy packages consisting of climate change and energy policy measures, tax harmonisation, or the claim for re-regionalisation of the economy can put a certain pressure on these commodity circuits and, thus, on hub cities. However, the still most important challenge for the related role of hubs is their economic rationale as such: How is the concrete demand for bundling material flows nested in certain places, so they can borrow size and significance, in order to capitalise on these processes? How can they survive in a rapidly changing, highly competitive environment, given the fact that markets are becoming increasingly integrated, and hubs can be moved away from one place and to another much easier than it was the case with the traditional transport gateways (see Hesse 2014b)?

Finally, whether we like it or not, carrying cherries from Chile to China does provide economic benefits and, thus, contributes to a sort of social sustainability, given the number of jobs that are created at, or moved to, these hubs. This is even true when parts of these benefits tend to spread widely (see last year’s blog entry on ports and regional development). Logistics services can offer jobs in a range of qualifications that has almost disappeared, as a consequence of de-industrialisation. While this brings a certain temptation for regions to accept a sort of "dark side" of distribution, consisting of temp staffing, low salaries or problematic health conditions — reasons for which the labour conditions in warehouses of firms such as amazon.com and others were criticised recently quite substantially – it seems obvious that in some instances the distribution economy to have a positive impact on the labour market and this should not be neglected. Still, the ecological footprint of global sourcing even for everyday products can be quite hefty, particularly once it is taken in absolute numbers. So the question remains whether there is such thing as “sustainable distribution” at an overall level of assessment, and whether this can bring a solid, long-term future to the related places that are further specialising as hubs.


Born, B. & Purcell, M. (2006). Avoiding the local trap scale and food systems in planning research. Journal of Planning Education and Research 26 (2), 195-207

Donald, B., Gertler, M., Gray, M. & Lobao, L. (2010). Re-regionalizing the food system? Cambridge Journal of Regions, Economy and Society 3, 171-175

Hesse, M. (2014a). On borrowed size and flawed urbanization: The exceptional urbanism of Luxembourg, Luxembourg. European Urban and Regional Studies. DOI: 10.1177/0969776414528723

Hesse, M. (2014b). International Hubs as a Factor of Local Development: The Case of Luxembourg-City, Luxembourg and Leipzig-Halle, Germany. Urban Research and Practice 7 (3), 337-353

Kohr, L. (1976). The overdeveloped nations: The diseconomies of scale. Swansea: C. Davies

Lang, T. & Hines, C. (1993). The new protectionism: Protecting the future against free trade. New York: The New Press

MacGregor, J. & Vorley, B. (2007). "Fair Miles": The Concept of "Food Miles" Through a Sustainable Development Lens. International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED).

Pretty, J. N., Ball, A. S., Lang, T. & Morison, J. I. (2005). Farm costs and food miles: An assessment of the full cost of the UK weekly food basket. Food policy 30 (1), 1-19

Watkiss, P., Schmith, A., Tweddle, G. & McKinnon, A. (2005). The validity of food miles as an indicator of sustainable development. Final report prepared by AEA Technology Environment for DEFRA, London.

Weber, C. L., & Matthews, H. S. (2008). Food-miles and the relative climate impacts of food choices in the United States. Environmental Science & Technology 42 (10), 3508-3513

Markus Hesse

21 November, 2014

Municipal views on the Sector Plans

The Minister of Sustainable Development and Infrastructures, François Bausch, recently announced that, due to legal complications, they might change the Sector Plans (Article 19, in particular), and that they might withdraw them altogether.

Lesser reported in the media is the scope of opposition that the plans faced over the last six months. By googling "avis plans directeurs sectoriels"  it is easy to click through the different homepages of Luxembourgish municipalities, and find their positions on the issue. Not few have published lengthy reviews.  Click through the following list of municipalities to find out what they say. Big thank you to Tom Becker in helping find these. If you know of any further municipal publications, feel free to send them to me or link to them in the comments section below.

Bascharge, Bech, Betzdorf, Bettembourg, Biwer, ClervauxGoesdorf, Grevenmacher, Hesperange, Hobscheid, Kayl, Kehlen, Mondorf, Schifflange, Vichten, Waldbillig, Wormeldange

Differdange has audio material to tune into.

Krieger & Associés  - a legal firm specializing on local housing law - has also been active on the issue.  A visit to their homepage is also illuminating.

13 November, 2014

FLSHASE Key Area “Sustainable Development”

Sustainable development (SD) was recently declared a Key Area at the Faculty of Language and Literature, Humanities, Arts and Education (FLSHASE), University of Luxembourg. To give weight to this, members of the Faculty were invited to meet, introduce their work and research approach, generally get to know each other, and engage in the beginning phases of developing a teaching and research framework that could speak to SD. The last event was attended by roughly twenty researchers. As homework, everyone was asked to prepare a written statement around the question of how we each engage with SD in our own work. The following is our response, and we look forward to reading the others (!) In this process of writing this, we also realized that the statement is perhaps also useful as a Zwischenbilanz of our work, in general, and would therefore make a good addition to our blog. Bonne lecture!

Our original encounter with SD in our research was as a normative orientation in urban planning, whereas across the globe the urban is recognized as the logical site of sustainability intervention. Our entry to the subject was the observation that SD was a normative orientation in Luxembourgian spatial planning. Later, we observed it as well in Swiss spatial planning. Together, these formed the backgrounds and purposes of two CORE projects funded by the Fonds National de la Recherche (FNR) and the UL: SUSTAINLUX and SUSTAINGOV. We have researched SD throughout these endeavours and have found the topic of SD rather multi-dimensional.
   Why planning? Nowadays, local policy and urban planning are widely accepted as one appropriate scale of sustainability intervention. Rydin (2010, 136) identified three reasons why this is so: first, planning can permit new forms of urban development that can reshape cities towards sustainability goals; second, new development can underpin urban change with sustainable technologies and infrastructure; and third, development proposals are often approved by governmental planning offices which are therefore the primary body in control over change towards sustainability or not. The ever widespread notion that the planet is becoming urbanized has also further fueled the idea that urban spaces are increasingly important focal points of intervention (Rydin 2010). However, in practice things tend to be more difficult to settle, than it initially appears.[1]
   Two issues are coming to our mind in particular. Firstly, SD figures prominently across European and North American policy documents. Here, we see not only a plethora of attempts at realising SD, but also a plethora of problems at the level of implementation. A recent special issue of Interface in Planning Theory & Practice, guest edited by Carr provides an overview of these contradictions.[2] Contributions from members of the Geography Institute addressed some operationalizations of SD that have taken on hegemonic form in urban planning policy in recent years. They showed how these approaches have, in practice, produced not only new sets of problems to be dealt with, but have also achieved very little headway in terms of addressing fundamental underlying problems that triggered the call for SD in the first place. Sometimes the SD is too fuzzy and blurred in its articulation (Evrard, Nienaber, and Roos). Sometimes the approaches are too top-down and insensitive to specific local variations (Becker). Hesse argued that planners and activists (alike) can be so fixated on the orthodoxies – such as density – that the point is missed altogether. Similarly, McDonough challenges the normative notion that a sublime balance of integrated parts, in the name of SD, can be achieved. Lastly, SD in times of post-Fordist, post-crisis political economic patterns of urban restructuring, such approaches have also increasingly been driven by market forces – another problem (Krueger).
   The contributions show that, to date, no recipe for SD exists, in fact. Rather, current forms of intervention expose, at best, various dilemmas, and at worst, that only certain actors – such as landowners, developers and central state administrations – can expect to benefit from these exercises. They, thus, point not only to issues of mere political interest and conflict, but also the hidden agendas that may frame SD. Secondly, we have buttressed our approach to SD with several conceptual approaches such as policy mobility, scale theory, SD in the context of enclave spaces, and SD as an empty signifier. In terms of policy mobility Carr (2013) has contributed to the body of literature that examines how SD ‘travels’.[3] This work builds on previous conceptual contributions that have shown that policies cannot be cookie-cuttered across space at will, as some proponents of new modernism or business improvement districts seem to deem. Rather, policy transfer and implementation is a contextually grounded process rooted in locally specific socio-political and economic arrangements. With respect to SD, it is, at most, implemented asynchronously across various geographies, and often not implemented at all.
   In a Special Issue of Local Environment, Carr and Affolderbach addressed SD in terms of scale theory and actor networks.[4] One problem of SD is the contradiction between foundational change on a global scale with locally bounded initiatives. While the global cannot address and deliver SD at the local level, the same problem arises in its opposite as the local cannot, in isolation, generate global change. The contributions showed that local initiatives must be viewed in association to the wider multi-scalar networks that enable and disable them. Together, the papers were conceptually anchored critical case studies that exposed the limited reach of networks, the spatial unevenness, and social externalities that unfold and diverge at wider scales of analysis.
   This work was also relevant to scale theory. Building on previous international work, Affolderbach & Carr showed a ‘blended scales’ of governance in Luxembourgian SD policy.[5] Similarly, Hesse examined scaled SD in a paper exposing the power dynamics involved in urban and regional planning that aims to be sustainable.[6] Luxembourg, as a small state, develops as a political-economic niche in a network of international flows. In urban geography, there is an emerging literature looking at such enclave spaces. These are posing a particular challenge to SD in various regards.
   Most recently, Carr examined SD as an empty and master signifier. The work builds on authors who argued that, albeit void of content, that the naming of the empty-signifier, in this case SD, performs a “quilting” function around which policy-makers can orient in attempts to bring order out of disorder. Davidson argued that SD was a signifier capable of redirecting policy agendas. Most importantly, they would be redirected away from social problems. Carr takes this one step further and shows that SD is, in this sense, indeed a policy-maker’s discursive ordering device that can redirect discursive spheres, but that this also has spatial and embodied implications. In this sense, SD can have implications in terms of power.
   Fourth, we deal with SD as a locally relevant discourse. According to the interviews that we conducted during SUSTAINLUX, many in Luxembourg date local environmental governance back to Rio, the Green Party, the planning law of 1999 and respective planning documents. However, for one thing, Luxembourg also has a long history of natural resource management, and by extension, environmental policy.[7] Like many European cities, the role of fresh water infrastructure, waste disposal, and forestry has long been closely linked to the development of the state apparatus and economic development policy. Sustainability was anchored in forestry legislation of the Grand Duchy as early as 1840. Today, policy debates around SD centre either on local radical social movements or on national objectives of climate change, energy reduction, and smart mobility. Concerning the latter, efforts have concentrated most recently on the design and enforcement of a particular land use arrangement in the name of SD. On this, Hesse (2014) recently published a critical commentary in the daily newspaper Luxemburger Wort, titled “Plan ohne Land”.[8] A copy is available here.

[1] Rydin, Y. (2010) Governing for Sustainable Urban Development (Washington, DC, Routledge).
[2] Carr, C. (guest ed., forthcoming): Raising Sustainability. Forthcoming in Planning Theory & Practice, Interface.  Becker, T. (forthcoming) Boosting and Mobilizing Sustainability: Why European Sustainable Urban Development Initiatives Are Slow to Materialise. Planning Theory & Practice, Interface. Evrard, E., B.Nienaber, and U. Roos. (forthcoming) Territorial Cohesion as a Vehicle of Sustainability. Planning Theory & Practice, Interface. Hesse, M. (forthcoming) Distorted Density: Where the Views of Developers and NGOs on Sustainable Urban Development Intersect. Planning Theory & Practice, Interface.  Krueger, R. (forthcoming) Overcoming Politics with Markets? The Co-Production of Sustainable Development in Urban and Regional Planning. Planning Theory & Practice, Interface. McDonough, Evan. (forthcoming) Sustainable Urban Development and the Challenge of Global Nodes and Spatial Integration: Madrid-Barajas Airport and Development on the Periphery of the Global City. Planning Theory & Practice, Interface.
[3] Carr, C., 2013. Discourse Yes, Implementation Maybe: An Immobility and Paralysis of Sustainable Development Policy. European Planning Studies 22 (9): 1824–40. doi:10.1080/09654313.2013.806433.
[4] Carr, C. and J. Affolderbach. 2014. Rescaling Sustainability? Local Opportunities and Scalar Contradictions. Local Environment 19 (6): 567–71.
[5] Affolderbach, J., and C. Carr. 2014. Blending Scales of Governance: Land Use Policies and Practices in the Small State of Luxembourg. Regional Studies. doi:10.1080/00343404.2014.893057.
[6] Hesse, M. 2013. Das ‘Kirchberg-Syndrom’: Grosse Projekte im kleinen Land. Bauen und Planen in Luxemburg. DISP - The Planning Review 49 (1): 14–28.
[7] Carr, C., Hesse, M., Schulz, C. Sustainable Spatial Development in Luxembourg. Under preparation for « Luxembourg Studies/Etudes luxembourgoises », book series publ. by Peter Lang, Frankfurt et al.
[8] Hesse, M. 2014. Plan ohne Land. Luxemburger Wort, p. 16, Analyse & Meinung (16.11.2014).