Spatial planning and territorial cohesion
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As the European Union has grown, so that it now encompasses 25 countries, so it has also embraced the need for sustainable development, international competitiveness and cohesion within the European territory. In 1999, the spatial planning ministers of the then 15 member states agreed the European Spatial Development Perspective. This is not a binding document – the EU as an institution has no legal competence in spatial planning. Rather it set out policy options that it urged member states and regional and local governments to apply. One of the foremost of these was the idea of polycentric urban development. This implies strengthening functional linkages and cooperation between urban centres with complementary strengths so that they can become more competitive and in this way the benefits of economic growth can be more widely shared around the European territory rather than being over-concentrated in the most developed area known as the ‘Pentagon’ (because it is bounded by London, Paris, Milan, Munich and Hamburg). One aim is to grow some of these polycentric urban networks into ‘global economic integration zones’. Gateway cities – transcontinental entry points to the enlarging Europe – were also identified as having special economic potential.
New knowledge and skills are needed to take these ideas forward. The European Spatial Planning Observation Network (ESPON) began its work in 2002. It is mapping key spatial trends (for example, migration, accessibility, access to telecommunications), indicators and territorial impacts of policies across the 25 EU countries, plus Switzerland, Norway and the two countries that are candidates for EU membership, Bulgaria and Romania. The work is done in international teams and the analysis is conducted at three levels – macro (the 29 countries as a whole), meso (international groupings of regions in particular parts of Europe, such as the Baltic Sea Region) and micro (national and regional within a country). Attention is also being paid to neighbouring countries such as those in North Africa, and to ‘Europe in the world’. Another project is exploring the spatial implications of competitiveness within a knowledge economy. The result is that the territorial aspects of development potentials can now be better understood, and policy dilemmas between different scales have been highlighted. For example, a policy that will close the development gap between the new member states from Eastern Europe and the older members from Western Europe will probably result in widening disparities between the capital cities of those new members and their rural or former heavy industrial regions.
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