Most of us are used to think of regions as a geographical space around a center, often a big city. But as cities get more and more involved within each others, Magdalena Belof will argue in this article that new regional shape may occur as a result of this development.
The process of European integration influences considerably the way we perceive the space and territory we live within as well as activities related to them namely spatial planning and territorial development. The last mentioned are not anymore apply merely to physical and infrastructural dimension but to more general positioning of towns and regions within European and global space.
The new geographical reality of Europe requires new perception of scale and broaden “spatial imagination” not only from professional planners but also from politicians and administrations of all level, including those who represent local and regional tires.
It also calls for revision, or at least elasticity, in interpreting certain terms as is the ‘region’ – which in fact already has numerous definitions and understandings. One of the meanings represents so called “functional regions” – that can be understood as broader, often transnational, areas where functional interdependencies exist and mainly refer to economic relations in larger metropolitan areas (city-regions), to transport infrastructure and water catchments areas and to some environmental issues that stretch across national borders.
In the view of the long-term objective pursued by the European spatial development concept to develop several economic zones of integration for wider Europe (that is also supported by the EU‘s Territorial Agenda as well visible in debate on alternative approach to allocation of Cohesion Policy founding) it seems very important – especially for the regions outside the core European economic zone – to
position themselves within such a larger structures, among which so called ‘development corridors’ or ‘development trajectories’ represent and interesting alternative. By some they are even perceived as the essential building blocks for establishing the new economic core area in Europe.
How the development corridor supposed to be interpreted? It is obviously a linear spatial structure composed of cities and regions located and connected along some functional, most often infrastructural backbone.
Though the idea of the development corridor has strong roots in the concept of Pan-European Transport Corridors (adopted in Crete in 1994), its present meaning if far broader than merely a bunch of infrastructural threads. It covers various dimensions of cooperation and numerous forms of alliances along certain geographical stripe, including economical interrelations (with a special concern of the SME’s cooperation), spatial planning, research and technology, culture, education, tourism, cooperation of towns and metropolises etc.
The objective is to ensure the integrated development of areas along the particular corridor which – thanks to better inter-connectivity – will form jointly a certain critical mass enabling them to be competitive on an international level. Efficient multimodal transport infrastructure is by no means the end in itself, but obviously plays the crucial role in increasing connectivity in such a linear structures, facilitating both social and economic growth and development.
The special concern of the European officials in recent years has been raised by the development corridor which extends from north to south from Scandinavia to the Mediterranean region. The idea itself is strongly supported by countries and regions situated along its potential trajectory. While the position of Scandinavian regions as Skåne has not been questioned as the corridor’s ‘starting point’, the possible current of the trajectory down the South causes certain competitive tension between Polish and German regions.
Some international studies and concepts have been produced in recent years, mainly within the Interreg program framework (e.g.: Sic!, SoNorA, Scandria, A-B Lanbridge), to find and prove the best course of the corridor and to support one or the other concept. From the Polish perspective such a corridor should activate the regions located along the stripe of Odra river which would form it’s natural backbone. This concept is supported also by other countries and regions and has found its formal expression in international initiative under the name: “Central European Transport Corridor”, which presently involves formally 11 regions from 6 courtiers with some additional observers. The CETC Iinitiative formulates a number of goals related to broad socio-economical and
environmental issues, however the general message is that improved accessibility within this corridor would lead to a compensation of the gap in prosperity in involved regions.
Future spatial and organizational structure of the EU territory remain the subject of constant debate which is full of uncertainty and disagreements. It is though undoubtful that better understanding of socio-economic position of a particular territory, the readiness to co-operate in international level and perhaps even to the transferring of certain powers to some sort of supra-national structures would be a key elements of making Europe more balanced and competitive.
Would the development corridors be possible forms of new European mega regions? The answer is not to be risked here. What is certain that such a spatial-economical formations neither appear by itself nor by the visioning of spatial planners – the fundamental factor to call them into real being lies in the political decisions.
Ph D Arkitekt