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By Professor Cliff Hague
The PIPE Project: Is there a greater value? 2004-06-19


Contributions to Sustainable and Balanced Polycentric Settlement Structures in the Baltic Sea Region and Europe


Introduction and aims

This paper was given at the PIPE meeting in Ulricehamn in May 2004. It seeks to set the PIPE Interreg project in a context of academic research and European policy. It argues that PIPE has tackled important issues, and developed ideas and practices that can make a contribution to regional development. Therefore the paper explores ways in which PIPE might be taken forward.


The paper has the following structure:

·        European Spatial Development

·        Competitiveness

·        Territorial Cohesion

·        Sustainable spatial development

·        PIPE

·        Possible future projects

·        Conclusions


European Spatial Development

Writing and projects about European co-operation and development should carry a preface that reminds us why they are important. 1 May 2004 was a historic day, when the EU grew to 25 member states. The political separation of central Europe from western Europe was ended. In the twentieth century Europe was scarred by war and by the ‘iron curtain'.  Young people in PIPE will have little or no memory of those times.  We who are older members of the PIPE ‘family' need to explain to them this history. The Europe of this new generation has to be built on co-operation and respect for diversity.


Recent geo-political shifts are only part of the picture. Globalisation has restructured the nature of economies and of local and regional government. Subsequent sections of the paper review these changes in more detail. In short, the argument is as follows. Innovation is increasingly important; networks and flows drive change; and public agencies increasingly have to act in an entrepreneurial manner rather than in an administrative mode. In other words, regional councils and municipal councils also need to be innovative. They have to try to achieve more with fewer resources. They have to work in partnership with the private sector and the community and with other authorities. To be effective they need to deliver ‘joined-up' government, rather than a set of separate sector-by-sector services.


The importance of spatial development to successful European integration was recognised in the European Spatial Development Perspective (ESDP) (Committee on Spatial Development, 1999). Today, strategic spatial planning is becoming increasingly important across Europe.  Graham and Marvin (2001) use the word ‘glocalisation' to describe attempts to grapple with the interplay of global forces and their local action and impact.  One outcome of such forces has been a process of ‘institutional rescaling' within Europe (Macleod, 1999; Brenner, 1999). This means that the traditional hierarchies of central, regional and local government are changing. In PIPE, for example, we see new partnerships in which people at a local level work across national boundaries to address concerns that they have in common.


Spatial planning is fundamentally concerned with where development happens. It seeks to integrate investment in sectors such as transport, agriculture, research and development or environmental protection so as to achieve sustainable development. Polycentric development is an important concept in spatial planning. It means connecting a number of places so that they form a network. By operating together they achieve a new critical mass that can sustain and grow businesses, services and facilities. Polycentric development means forging new connections by overcoming historical barriers, such as those caused by national boundaries, local rivalries or distance / poor communications. The links in the network may be improved transport channels, but this is not the only possibility. Links may be virtual connections using information technology, or joint working or simply a newly focused and active co-operation.


‘Cities embracing complementary urban functions may co-operate as one larger "city". And they may co-operate on the establishment of labour-market facilities, education, and specialised business services in order to build up competencies that are needed in the region but which are too specialised for each city to establish on its own.' (Groth, 2002)


The ESDP placed importance on planning for polycentric urban regions. The idea suggests that the best way to grow a region is for there to be many centres, each playing a complementary role. The ESDP says that polycentric development is ‘an essential pre-requisite for the balanced and sustainable development of local entities and regions', but also for Europe's international competitiveness.


Healey (2004) argued that the changes that are occurring in spatial development and planning are so fundamental that they prompt new concepts and ways of acting. Traditionally we have thought of scale as a nested hierarchy - e.g. national / regional / local. In this model, there are national systems of education, planning, environmental protection etc. that are contained and administered within local units like communes. Within the old hierarchies, space was tidily confined within clear boundaries, and administration focused on organisation of activities within the boundary. 


Today networks connect sites that are not physically next to each other. Also, actions take place between scales - e.g. local authorities co-operate to deliver trans-European projects like PIPE through local actions. Boundaries can block awareness of such changes. In a world of networks, it is the nodes that count. Those in the nodes are connected, whereas other areas between the nodes are not. Thus in PIPE interaction between schools or youth groups in different countries has taken place, so that, for example there are links between Tranemo and Alythus that do not exist between the young PIPErs from Tranemo and other youth groups in the rest of Vastra Gotaland.  People move from their home to different places for work, education, shopping, holidays etc. In a similar way, a place can have multiple positions and connections into different networks - e.g. the same municipality may be in a PIPE network, a separate twin-town network, another grouping of towns within the same region, etc. etc.



One reason why so many European countries joined together to form the EU is the pressure of global competition, and in particular the challenges pose by the USA and by Asia. In 2000 the EU adopted the Lisbon Agenda. This included a goal of making the EU the world's leading knowledge economy by 2010. But what is a knowledge economy, and how does it develop?


There is growing recognition that places and territorial policies are significant influences on economic performance. Porter (1990, 1995, 1996) made the case that place-related factors influence the competitiveness of firms.  He argued that the bases for competitive advantage could lie in very local factors. Porter's arguments are as follows:

‘…places that are successful economically have concentrations of specialised knowledge, support institutions, rival firms, related enterprises and sophisticated customers. Proximity leads to special access, closer relationships, better information and powerful incentives to innovate.' (Lever and Turok ,1999)


Begg (1999) summarised the place-based factors that researchers have seen as influencing the business environment. Please see Box 1. Models of innovation have moved from a linear view of ‘technology push' and ‘market pull'. Instead innovation is now thought to be linked to interaction and ‘soft' factors like tacit understanding and trust. Therefore organisational factors and cultures are important influences. The implication is that access to knowledge networks, together with an entrepreneurial culture within a local area, can make a difference to innovation and development.


Box 1. Place Characteristics and Competitive Business: Key Factors Affecting the Business Environment

•           The supply, quality and cost of various factors of production - i.e. different categories of labour, property and complementary services.

•           Education and training facilities, and the ease with which companies can alter the nature of publicly funded training provision.

•           Fiscal and user charges, and the operation of the land use planning system.

•           Social and environmental factors, e.g. the quality of housing, schools, the crime rate, civic amenities etc. will influence investors' and managers' locational decisions.

•           Social cohesion is regarded positively.

•           Positive agglomeration effects are an asset - e.g. diversity of sub-contractors. However negative impacts like congestion have adverse effects. Thus the quality and costs of transport and other infrastructure networks matters.

Source: Begg (1999)



Glaeser (2004) connected local economic growth to human capital in a regional economy. Skilled workers are needed to attract firms and to create entrepreneurs. To catch and hold skilled workers, places need to be attractive and affordable for middle-income people. Glaeser stressed the importance of housing and good quality education facilities, though a sense of place identity can logically be added to his listing.


Demography also matters. Ageing populations are more conservative than youthful populations. This partly explains the ‘vicious circle' that many remote regions face. Locational disadvantages are compounded by loss of the most dynamic people, whose talents then further fuel the growth of the more successful regions to which they migrate.


The implications of research on place competitiveness are that places that are on the periphery of Europe, and have only small numbers of people (especially young people), face severe disadvantages. It is difficult for them to generate what Begg called ‘positive agglomeration effects' - in other words the benefits that come from having a large pool of firms and innovative people who know and trust each other, do business together and exchange ideas both formally and informally. This is perhaps the main reason why Europe has an urban/industrial core and a rural periphery. The push to increase Europe's competitiveness is likely to widen the divisions that already exist - unless some of the advantages of agglomeration can be replicated in the small towns and rural areas in regions such as the Baltic Sea. Strategic spatial planning has a part to play in this process, using concepts like polycentric development, as described already. However, there also needs to be local action to promote an entrepreneurial culture and to connect people on the periphery in wider networks.


Territorial Cohesion

The EU's Third Cohesion Report (CEC 2004) stressed the need to improve Europe's global competitiveness. Also new and important was the emphasis given to territorial cohesion.  This idea comes from French national and regional policy (Peyrony and Hingray, 2002).  Widening disparities between places, whether within the same region or nation state or in the EU as a whole, will engender a sense of alienation. Citizens in disadvantaged places begin to feel that the political institutions either cannot, or will not, ensure equitable treatment for their area. Such resentments are likely to undermine the integrity of that political unit, the territory. The remedy is an active spatial policy, but one that stops short of indiscriminate and expensive subsidies across whole regions, as such measures would undermine competitiveness elsewhere through high taxes, for example.


The ideas and policies associated with territorial cohesion owe much to the recognition that networks are a definitive spatial form of globalisation. Closely connected is the second fundamental concept - inclusion or exclusion from the network. Competitive advantage comes from being linked into the leading networks, and from being able to connect across the limits of networks or to innovate new networks.  Similarly, barriers are erected or premiums are charged to control entry to networks. Hence the advent of networked societies (Castells 1996, 1997 and 1998) has profound implications for social equity.


It is often assumed that new telecommunications technologies can overcome the traditional isolation of rural and peripheral areas from key sources of ideas and innovation. However, research in the European Spatial Planning Observation Network reveals a significant urban/rural divide in access to, and use of, such technologies, even in countries like Finland where new technologies are well embedded. Therefore, efforts have to be made at a local level by those on the periphery to build, or ‘hook in' to, knowledge networks. Active, outward-looking and creative local initiatives and the building of networks can thus contribute towards territorial cohesion at all scales from the local unit of government through to the EU.


Sustainable spatial development

The ESDP saw ‘sustainable spatial development' as a reconciling of economic claims with ecological and cultural functions. Critics (e.g. Jensen and Richardson, 2004) have argued that the ESDP has put the environment at a lower priority than economic growth and mobility. However the ESDP does stress the importance of conserving natural resources and cultural heritage. It is perhaps significant though that a planned project within the European Spatial Planning Observation Network on cultural heritage has not yet been tendered. The ESPON project on natural heritage has emphasized the importance of coastal areas to European identity, and has recognized that natural heritage is likely to be less threatened in the periphery than in the core of Europe. The main threats to natural heritage are seen as urban development and intensification of farming.


One of the key themes in ESDP was the need to undertake development strategies in rural regions that were sensitive to local needs and conditions. Regional and cultural diversity was recognized as an important strength of Europe as a whole. Support of rural areas in education, training and non-agricultural employment was stressed. In areas of sparse population and peripherality, small and medium sized towns were recognised as being especially important as focal points for regional development and services. Co-operation and information exchange between rural areas was also endorsed.



PIPE is highly relevant to the ESDP and to the spatial development challenges of Europe. Recent ESPON research on demographic and migration trends across the whole of Europe has found that the core is continuing to diverge from the periphery. The researchers found that ‘There seems to be more indications of population concentration and monocentric development than polycentric development' and added that this tendency is ‘especially strong in the Northern countries and in Eastern Europe'. These findings show how difficult and deep are the forces that PIPE is contesting. The demographic researchers recognise the problems of regions where there is both out-migration and an ageing population, a situation that describes many of the partners in PIPE. This is why the young people, identity and entrepreneurialism within PIPE are so important. Young people are more likely to migrate than older people. They are also more likely to be open to entrepreneurialism, as older persons become more conservative. There is also plenty of demographic evidence that migrants are typically people with skills and ambition - thus migration is typically selective both in terms of age and skills.


Human capital is especially important to competitiveness in regions where infrastructure lags behind the levels in the urbanised European core. The small pool of people in these sparsely populated areas means, other things being equal, a lower likelihood of innovation, simply because there are less ideas and contacts. If these regions then lose their young people, and especially their most able and ambitious young people, then their competitiveness will decrease in a world where globalisation is increasing the lvel of competition all the time.


Equally obvious and important is the fertility of young people. While fertility levels have fallen to very low levels across Northern Europe, the rate of natural population increase in any region is very dependent n the age profile of the population. Thus an area that loses its young people today loses the next generation also.


All of these factors demonstrate the importance of the PIPE focus on young people in small towns and sparsely populated regions. It is not just that they have often been a neglected group (though that would be sufficient justification for the project). The point is that young people in peripheral regions are a very important target group if the EU is to achieve the ambitions in the Lisbon Agenda, and the aims for territorial cohesion and balanced and sustainable polycentric development. The future of these regions depends fundamentally on where these young people decide to they want to live. They will have choices - they cannot be compelled to stay in their home towns or villages. Indeed some may be tempted to forsake Europe entirely - European growth rates are sluggish in comparison to those in the USA, as the Third Cohesion Report noted. Developing to the full the talents and entrepreneurial abilities of these people and giving them a sense of place and European identity is an essential investment for the long term future of the peripheral regions and for Europe as a whole.


Another important focus of PIPE is place identity. The ESDP begins with a strong assertion of the value of regional diversity. It says ‘The characteristic territorial feature of the EU is its cultural variety… (which) must be retained in the face of European integration'. By exploring identity and regional culture the young people in PIPE are likely to develop awareness of their heritage, appreciation of the natural environment, and to view their region in a more positive way. There is evidence from the questionnaires undertaken as part of the evaluation of PIPE that this has happened. Identity can also be an economic asset, and so the work on identity should complement PIPE's entrepreneurial strand. Healey (2004) argued for the development of what she called ‘a locally relevant imagination' that could explore aspects of ‘place and place quality which are locally-important, and the interaction between these and the wider relations of which they are a part'. This entails, she suggested, discussion with a wide array of ‘stakeholders concerned with place quality and territorial development.' She stressed the need to relate such discussions to ‘daily life meanings and activities' rather than the ‘urban form concepts of traditional physical planning' (p.65). The work done in PIPE seems to put Healey's abstract recommendations into practice.


There are close links between identity and participation.  In exploring in a practical way the issues about youth involvement PIPE is again posing fundamental questions about how local and regional government should relate to its citizens. The traditional relation was that a council sought to provide services on a standard basis. Governments and officials knew what was needed. They had power. They organized themselves into separate departments so as to match expertise to the services that were needed. All of this is changing. Increasingly state bodies have ‘power to' rather than ‘power over'. In other words they can initiate actions, encourage and support others, but they cannot force the outcomes. They have to find partners from the private sector and from the citizens. Also, the role of local initiatives in development is especially important in areas where traditional market forces are weak. Thus councils need to act in entrepreneurial ways. They also have to be more efficient than ever before, since they are likely to face calls for budget reductions and rationalizations.  One way to make limited funds go further and achieve more is to practice what is often called ‘joined up government'. This means working across the divides created by legislation and traditional departments within government bodies. It also means joining up across scales. Interreg projects are a good example of how extra benefits can come from working on local issues within an international context.


The fact that the voice of youth has often been unheard in government is not a coincidence. Other voices have been at or beyond the edge of normal policy making. Governments have been slow to grasp the extent to which societies today are characterized by diversity. In contrast entrepreneurs have long since learned that they need to know their market and that many markets are niche markets, whose custmers share some particular characteristics that are a minority in society as a whole but important for the sale of the particular product.


By listening to youth in PIPE, and working with them, politicians and officials are creating a different form of governance. It is responsive. If youth have particular needs that have often been ignored, could this be true of other groups in the territory? Are we listening and working with women, or with older persons, or persons with disabilities, or ethnic groups, for example? It would be valuable if the officials and politicians in PIPE reflected on the general lessons that can be developed from the experience of youth involvement. Sheffield Hallam University / ODPM (2004) found that diversity is a relatively new term in local government. It is about recognising, respecting and valuing differences. In a diverse society made up of people of different ages, cultures and backgrounds planners and politicians need to understand diversity to deliver a high quality service to everyone  


Thus PIPE has explored ways to modernize local and regional government. In summary we could suggest the following lessons for those who want government to be a learning and responsive process:

*      Challenge past practices

*      Consult with diverse groups

*      Co-ordinate across sectors, e.g. education and economic development

*      Compare experiences elsewhere

*      Co-operate in new networks

‘If the EU is to realise its economic potential, then all regions wherever they are located, whether in existing Member States or in the new countries about to join, need to be involved in the growth effort and all people living in the Union given the chance to contribute.' Commission of the European Communities, Third Cohesion Report, (2004).


PIPE absolutely reflects these sentiments. It is working in regions that are often overlooked in European development and with a group of persons who have often been isolated from the processes of regional and local government. It demonstrates that these regions and young people matter to all of us in Europe, and that they have latent talents and resources to contribute.


Looking beyond PIPE to possible future projects

How might it be possible to build on what has been learned in PIPE? How can the social and cultural capital built up in the project be reinvested to good effect, rather than being left to depreciate? These are questions that those involved in the project should consider. Let me offer a couple of preliminary suggestions.


In sparsely populated areas schools are especially important institutions. While commercial services are likely to disappear as soon as they become ‘uneconomic', schools are less vulnerable. Even when closure is proposed there is likely to be a strong call from local communities to save their school. PIPE has shown that schools can be used as a focus for generating entrepreneurialism and creative thinking about local identity. Might it be possible to create a polycentric and trans-national network of schools in sparsely populated regions and small towns that would be nodes for regional development and territorial cohesion?


A key part of such a project would be to train the trainers - develop teachers' understanding of regional development, and territorial cohesion. By working together teachers and local entrepreneurs and officials could explore how they could build a dynamic curriculum that in turn would inspire students' interests in local and regional development. A key part of PIPE's success has come from its use of problem-based learning. This could be a theme uniting all parts of the network, and a focus for sharing ideas, good practices and teaching resources. Perhaps there could be two centres for the network, one in the North and one in the Baltic, that help focus the development context of these broad regions and support the schools in their regional networks and to connect activity across the whole network.


As an alternative there could be a project in which the central focus is on local and regional authorities as innovation hubs for regional development and territorial cohesion. Again the approach would be based on subsidiarity and networking - councils have to manage territorial cohesion within their area and for their area at national and trans-national scale. The central aim would therefore be to embed the key lessons and practices from PIPE across all services within the council. The means to achieve this would again be a combination of local action within a trans-national learning and practice network.



*      PIPE has tackled issues of local, national and European importance

*      Young people in small towns and sparsely populated peripheral regions are a key group

*      Lessons and practices should be consolidated and disseminated

*      There is still work to be done 




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