2004 Congress Report, Geneva, Switzerland
“Management of Urban Regions”
A recent contribution of Isocarp to planning at the regional scale is its congress on “The management of Urban Regions” [Geneva, Switzerland 2004]. Many case studies presented at the congress showed fruitful regional cooperation, especially for single purpose operations. The key to their success was invariably strong political leadership and long term agreements. The congress host country‘s own experience was that cross border investment in motorways and rail infrastructure in the Geneva region brought advantages to all the active partners: the international urban community in Geneva, other medium size Swiss cities in the region, the rural French skiing resorts, together with identifiable positive ramifications as far as Grenoble and Lyon.
Keynote addresses prevailed that physical and social integration were a precondition of efficient management to the benefit of urban regions and their people as a whole.
Japp Moder praised the cooperation between Nijmegen and Arnhem which combined 700‘000 people of several towns and cities into a genuine integrated urban region of 1000 km2 located in the heart of a large polycentric metropolis of North West Europe. He showed how this introduced new competitive advantages to this region at the European level. Paul Bedford was successful in accommodating a very diverse multicultural society in the fast growing Toronto urban region through participatory and discursive planning. As chief planner he succeeded in integrating disparate areas of the metropolis to produce a whole with greater assets than its parts where all its ethnic groups were feeling ‘at home in the world‘. Peter Ross conveyed his experience of China‘s urbanisation. While physical development is taking place at a breathtaking speed, these new urban places seem to provide little in terms of social and cultural infrastructure which would enable its newcomers to fully participate in these emerging economies as urban citizens in their own right. Isocarp should reflect on appropriate urban structures which would foster human relations in fast growing urban economies. Conversely, Josep-Maria Llop-Thorne reported on a global study he carried out for Unesco and the International Union of Architects on medium size cities which constitute the largest urban settings with 62% of the world population. He demonstrated the essential role these ‘intermediary‘ cities fulfil for culture and social order. Occupying the space between rural villages and metropolitan mega-cities, they make great efforts to reinforce their competitive position in the global economy by establishing more robust relations between them at the regional level, enabling them to cooperate and to face world competition in common.
The General Rapporteur Charles Lambert concluded that urban regions were the true levels of dynamic development and urban identity. Civilisations had gradually become urban in the sense of the UN Habitat II conference, alongside longer life expectancy, demographic growth of urban population, globalisation of the economy and exchanges, and recent political restructuring. The result is hyper-concentration of material values and people in mega-cities where life conditions are often cruel for many. Case studies showed that when medium cities – often custodians of civilised values – are seeking synergy between themselves they can offer better conditions of urban lifestyles than large cities which nevertheless still cumulate knowledge and unique development potential. With appropriate ties to larger cities such cooperative urban regions of smaller towns and cities can attract and retain their population, rejuvenate their economic base and share values while preserving diversity. Such successful urban groupings would help to curb the decline of traditional regions and their downward spiral of poverty, unemployment and discrimination.
Successful urban regions are dissociating the notion of urbanity from built up density. Discontinuities have become new values of urban organisation when allocating functions to spaces. Open spaces form part of balanced urban places. Cooperation between discrete urban entities helps preserve human scale, local values, social cohesion and solidarity; it prevents congestion and secures greater efficiency of urban activities overall. Operationally, the success of urban regions depends on their ability to act decisively with rapid tangible results also to the outside world, mobilise the local population to share objectives and parts of a new regional identity, involve it in projects and gainful partnerships which build on the diversity and special assets of each partner in favour of territorial complementarity. Akin to modern enterprise governance, such city regions require competent and participatory management unlike traditional cities with their paternalistic structures. Keys to successful management of urban regions reside in better self-knowledge, in-depth understanding of all the constituent elements of a city region, coordinated distributive development strategies, free flowing communication, open and democratic decision making involving all interest groups and transparency.
If planners want an active role in this process, working with politicians and citizens they have to retrain and learn modern administrative and management practices adapted to the requirements of these new city regions. In particular, this would entail: methods of attracting new dynamic human resources; techniques to create a powerful image of the city region; know how of setting up a system of continuous social mobilisation and interaction; conceiving infrastructures for clusters of excellence and flagship districts; initiation of partnerships between local and outside protagonists across a city region; ability of story telling and working with utopia and dreams to stimulate visions for the city region future. Together, the proposals and experiences shared at the Geneva congress should contribute towards achieving polycentric development and territorial cohesion to the benefit of urban populations overall.