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The spatial logic of European actions

Urban and Spatial European Policies: LEVELS OF TERRITORIAL GOVERNMENT, EURA Conference in Turin, 18-20 April 2002

The area based initiatives have become a common feature of urban policies in many countries of Europe; even more, the European Commission has located local actions and integrated programmes at the top of the framework of spatial policies.

The model of local action has sensible empirical reasons: it is an innovative model, which tries to overcome the weaknesses of sectoral public actions (Gaudin 1993). A few common features may possibly be detected: a) all the programmes are locally bound actions increasingly concerned with the local development and employment issues; b) they foster a “vision” of spatial development for the whole area, the idea of “territory” implying community, environment and the local heritage as well; c) intended initially as a group of detached measures, some have progressed toward compound social and economic features; d) dealing with the implementation process seems to trigger an embryo co-operation between local authorities and recently powerful regions.

The implementation of urban actions across Europe has pinpointed a number of policy assumptions:

  • issues concentrated in distressed areas are all related and have to be tackled together in order to have a chance of renewing an area thoroughly (OECD 1998);

  • operating on areas of limited extent guarantees greater visibility and more effective management in the implementation process (CEC 1995);

  • different subjects combine in the local partnership (the inhabitants themselves, the local authorities, the national government, the private sector, voluntary bodies, and the European Union); such mix deeply influences case-studies in different studies, and is affected by national framework (Geddes 1998; Cremaschi 2002a);

  • the “integrated” approach is meant as a technique able to trickle a cumulative process (Turok 1991);

  • the effective management of such programmes has caused the local political-decisional system to progress, that is it has enabled it to gain a certain knowledge which spurs the system of governance to tackle and resolve on a permanent basis other social issues and problem areas (Chanan 1992);

  • local actions excavate the ”capability deposit”, and allow the “local knowledge” to come to the surface, and the local network to experiment solutions which were not available or which did not appear available earlier.

Local action methodology has been recently extended to wider aims such as local development (De Rita and Bonomi 1998; Fundaçao 2001) and is now widely acknowledged as a fundamental tool of a new programming for a more sustainable development. The investments supported by the European Regional Fund in Italy are a good example (Gualini 2001): they also show that the identification of spatial concepts and the implementation of programmes influence each other, sometimes leading to a successful reconsidering of administrative boundaries and traditional spatial framework. According to the Community Support Framework for Italy, the “integrated projects” are a complex of inter-sectoral actions, nested in a coherent shared vision. Such actions require a unitary management and an adequate “critical weight” in term of financial investment (Bilancio 1999).

However, looking both at area initiatives and local development paves the way to a certain number of issues, as witnessed by the long establishment of the varied field of municipal strategies (Le Galès 1993). First of all, the sheer idea of a territorial basis of local action is questioned: on the contrary, this explains why the Urban initiatives stuck to a spatial concept such as the (rather French) idea of the “quartier”. As local development is concerned, not a single idea of a meaningful spatial concept can be ascertained, but rather a wide variety of territorial phenomenology (Cremaschi 2001).

It is for this reason that it seems worth questioning the “spatial logic” of the European integrated actions. Reconstructing the spatial logic means to address issues such as how local actions are influenced by the spatial organisation of societies; and, in contrast, how spatial images influence urban policies. These questions are worth further investigation. The reason is that a clear spatial approach has never been made explicit (CEC 1998c), and possibly is not among the priority of the European policy making (as witnessed by the complex history of the Spatial Perspective (Cremaschi 2002b; Faludi and Zonneveld eds. 1997).

This paper is based on a survey of different Italian development programmes (Rap100- Formez, 2001), and a comparison with different European urban policies (Cremaschi 2002a). The results are described elsewhere (Cremaschi 2001 and 2002b), while a few general remarks are presented here.

A first issue in the search of a spatial logic is the number of local actions, whose growing figure is somehow alarming (§1); a second issue is the vague and uncertain idea of what an adequate spatial concept should be, the spatial matching of territory and society being a hard theoretical issue (§2); a further issue is whether the model of integration fits in different spatial frameworks (§3); and finally, the last issue impinges upon the theoretical assumptions underlying the local action and the local development models (§4).

The inflation of urban actions

About 1,600 local actions have been running in Italy in less than five years, of different dimension and scope. Surveys show actions piling up within the same spatial units and administrative boundaries, promising a huge investment of public resources (about 78 billions €: Cremaschi M., 2000a, Censis 2001).

More precisely, two main strands seem in one way or another to have been brought together:

  • the agreements devised by “Patti territoriali” in the framework of the national “negotiated” programming fostering local development, later assumed by the EU as Pacts for employment. These partnerships operate at the crossroads between job creation, enterprise creation and local development. Development actions consist of more or less 300 programmes, by two thirds located in the Southern regions;

  • the mix of different functional actions fostered by programmes for the renewal of urban downgraded areas, yet often expanding to wider aims.

Subsequent “generations” of such programmes have in fact elaborated upon the same integrated approach, whose last offspring are the Sustainable Development Schemes (Prusst, Programmi di recupero urbano e sviluppo sostenibile del territorio: Lavori Pubblici 2000b) on the one hand, and the Local actions for spatial development (Pit, Programmi integrati territoriali: Cremaschi 2001), the “strategic vision” aimed to amalgamate locally the actions envisaged by the Community Support Framework, on the other.

Thus several programmes have fostered a variety of aims maintaining the same approach and moreover spreading actions over the same area. Probably because of these two reasons, the “family groups” were brought together and mingled.

Further steps may be represented by the spreading of Agendas, the environmental Agenda 21 or the Habitat agenda, inspired by international models fostered by the United Nations and by less formal international networks. The agendas seem consistent with these former integrated programmes for two main reasons: they focus on the consensus building side of the implementation of “shared” vision; and they imply a cultural effort to adequate or change the stakeholders’ orientations. Both are common issues of local actions (agendas have started to be institutionalised in some countries of Europe, for instance in Denmark).

The number of actions does matter. An inflated style of programming raises a double issue: an excess of technicalities in the targeting of areas; a lack of capacity by agencies to gradually adjust to areas and actions.

Elsewhere the new style of programming is becoming tricky due to either the number of single actions, or the small size of most of them. In France, the “politique de la ville” (Chaline 1997) alone accounts for more than 2.500 actions: it has progressively summed up 214 “contrats” with different cities and metropolitan areas plus Paris, all together addressing 1300 neighbourhoods and 750 municipalities. As a consequence, it may be impossible to make out the whole picture, and the resulting jigsaw seems in any case to lack the due “democratic accountability”(Sueur 1999).

In Germany (Toepel et al., 2000) national urban programmes stem from the municipal experimentation of local initiatives (Gualini 2000): the Soziale Stadt programme concerned 162 initiatives in 124 cities in 1999.

In the UK the number of local initiatives has not simplified the elaboration of unitary development strategies, but has made it harder (Social Exclusion Unit, 2000: 29), while the severed style of the management weighs as a “burden” on the local operators.

The inflating of local actions questions the adequateness and pertinence of area based initiatives. However, the logic of spatial effects is somehow vague while the excess of boundaries enhances a new technicality of spatial practices. The murky sediment of multi-layered programmes increases the gap between general policies and local actions.

Ad-hoc territories

Beyond number and variety, the spatial effects of single actions are highly differentiated. However the logic of spatial effects is sometimes vague.

Often the combined result of different “territorial concepts” is unclear. Integrated programmes -such as the Urban Initiative- have combined several territorial concepts: the functional zoning of areas (in order to delimit areas eligible for financial support and to determine the application of territorialized policies): the improvement of basic infrastructures, facilities and public services; the development of synergies to establish functional interdependencies among policies; the differentiation of policies, measures and technical assistance on the basis of specific territorial criteria (CEC 1998b). Even more so when local development, or wider programmes, are at stake.

The Italian agreements for local development (Rap-Formez 2001) impinge upon different territorial images.

Research has shown (tab. 1) that spatial concepts and policy styles are closely linked. However, combined outcomes occurred sometimes that are coherent with the decision process implemented:

  1. some regions have referred to homogeneous territorial areas, such as those often described in the framework of regional planning; the decision if often hierarchical, yet is sometimes corrected by a mild reference to economic processes;

  2. other regions refer to the local economic systems, more ambitious local identities which ideally coincide with an employment basin and a development process, defining ad hoc areas incrementally resulting sometimes from a negotiated selection, sometimes from a top-down decision;

  3. finally, some regions have designed project-areas, as opposed to the natural ones, combining factual indicators, administrative criteria and local “visions” derived from a wide negotiation with local stakeholders and policy-makers, thus mediating between the “hardware” of different localities and the “software” of articulated processes.

Tab. 1

Spatial concepts and policy styles

Basilicata

Campania, Puglia

Calabria

Territorial images

Homogeneous territorial areas

Local economic systems

Project-areas

Spatial concepts

Natural areas defined through coherent sets of data

Mixed reference to economic and territorial features

“Voluntarist” areas mediating different inputs

Policy style

Paternalistic

Corporatist

Negotiated

Decision-process

Top-down

Mixed, top-down

Bottom-up

However, it can be easily recognised that:

  1. often, localities involved are highly heterogeneous (both for geographical features and for development perspective);

  2. not surprisingly, territorial images differ; among the images, those resulting from a “voluntarist projection”, being presumably more interesting then than those mirroring geographical features only;

  3. the matching of localities and images is the outcome of a sense-making process among stakeholders, as well as of an opportunistic stance of the local decision-makers (Cersosimo 2000);

  4. and finally, the construction of areas depends on the regional policy framework (Cremaschi 2001b).

Beyond a reasonable amount the following features tend to be problematic and to hide any coherent spatial effect: number, territorial heterogeneity, variety of styles. However, it is seems interesting to ascertain whether they affect also the model of local action too.

Integration models

A further question is whether integrated programmes follow a unitary model. This is to question one of the most important features of the new urban actions, and precisely the core idea of the integration of measures. One can conclude that integration is not only a tantalising concept, but also quite a multifaceted one, which addresses the rather complicating issue of matching spatial concepts and spatial policies.

Notwithstanding the Commission support for an extensive idea of integration, “…integrated approaches are still relatively few” (CEC 1998b). The idea of integration is however a “plural” one, not easily identifiable.

It must be noted that, on one hand, programmes seldom went further than a shallow blend of functional measures, and did not overcome what may be called the functional limit of integration. So far, the Italian experience enacted a weaker version of integration. Integration has been often meant as a sheer mix or balance of different measures, sometimes with disappointing outcomes (Tosi in Lavori Pubblici 2000): building, infrastructure, some social benefits and services to employment. However, different interpretations of the integration concept can be ascertained in territorial practices (Padovani 1999; Cremaschi 2002a; Donolo 2001).

On the other hand, it should be reminded that pursuing integration is not a recent one. There is no doubt that development projects of the ‘50s for instance were mainly a one-sector, one-actor mix of actions. International agencies insisted on concentrating on a single activity providing supposedly beneficial one-sided shocks to the entire economy.

However, a more integrated approach did sometimes crop up in the framework of the national economic development programme for the South; for instance, some integrated actions tried out after World War II targeted housing, health and education, strongly influenced by a peculiar mixture of Italian historicism and US regionalism. As geographical patterns are formed by history, the matching up of society and the environment moulded the whole territory. In turn, such ideology maintained that its structural features offered a basis for a comprehensive strategy of spatial development.

A second strand may be traced back to the 70s, to the growing awareness that regional spatial frameworks were affecting the outcome of the economic measures taken for the development of the South. To replace the budgetary style of programming, a complex of incentives and local agreement procedures were devised, tools to be generalised later in the 90s. However, those first attempts did not overcome the functional limit already shown. Since then, a turn in strategy fostered a more negotiated approach and a strengthened effectiveness.

It is worth remembering the definition provided by the European Commission, in the context of a review of the territorial implications of EU policies:

“More ambitious than the simple acknowledgement of functional interactions and the development of the synergies which can result, certain Community activities try to develop integrated and multisectoral approaches with a strong territorial dimension… (These initiatives) – based on the principles of participation and partnership – are aiming at the joint identification of a common strategic vision of development through effective co-ordination and co-operation between all the actors involved … and by taking into consideration both the natural, economic, social and territorial potential of an area and its hinterlands as well as the limits of its carrying capacity… (CEC 1998b: Italics added).

In the Commission language, the integrated approach is one among “a plurality of territorial concepts” of a very different nature, and among such concept it is an intriguing one, not easily matching EU aims and options. More precisely, the integrated approach may be distinguished from policies presenting direct impacts (such as the delimitation of areas eligible for support, the improvement of basic infrastructures, the differentiation on the basis of specific territorial criteria, etc.) which implement the basic functions of the Regional Policy.

The integrated approach instead is a concept linking three rather difficult presumptions: an underlying strategic vision, an agreed action plan, and a commitment to sustainability.

There are quite obvious differences with the outcomes of previous less integrated programmes like those discussed so far: the integration model enacted by most of the initiatives reviewed is limited to “ the simple acknowledgement of functional interactions”. Even the ambitious Development Plan of the South (Bilancio 1999) is aimed to concentrate the financial resources on a limited number of measures and areas; and the regeneration programmes implemented so far have privileged the financial integration and rather the cross-linkage of private developments with social aims and public actor (Dicoter 2000).

However, the functional interaction is basically a technical combination, and does not imply –at least to a significant extent – a joint conceptualisation.

Networks or communities?

The final remark concerns the model of development fostered by the programmes.

Again, certain vagueness and redundancy have been found in most of the strategic statements, at least at an initial stage. Due to the competition requirements, an agreement between the strategic vision and the action plan is not always guaranteed. It is worth remembering that territorial policy lacks a strong background in Italy, apart from a few examples such as the land reclamation and some early Fifties programme in the framework of post-war effort to develop the Southern regions. And it is also worth remembering that the municipal level is the stronger tier of territorial government, as elsewhere in Europe, while the integrated spatial development is weak either at a regional or at a national level. However, this is a changing feature of the planning system in most European countries (Cremaschi 2002c), and even in Italy a form of structure plan is now provided by the provincial governments (Lavori Pubblici 2000)

Even more important, action plans have varied quite a lot in the implementation process, being strongly influenced by the empirical conditions of the assembling (Avarello 2001). This is a coercive condition in the most deprived situations: due to a potential unlimited requirement of infrastructure, employment initiatives, public service etc., no one action plan can possibly satisfy local needs entirely. Consequently, the implementation game continuously offers endless reasons to rework the initial statements. It is these reasons that multi-layered political processes – such those characterising southern Italy- are eager to spoil.

And finally, the image of the territory implied by the vision of the economic development is rather weak. Other integrated programmes have cared more about the matching of the spatial representation, and of the model of action. As local development is concerned, the first is often ritual and not relevant, as experienced so far by the Community Framework. Consequently the “agreed” vision tends to be weak, and the territorial criteria less coherent. The local development programme lacks an identification of the social core of the spatial unit, as effective as the idea of neighbourhood in the urban policy. Decades ago the idea of community could have played such a role, an idea is sometimes advocated by influent thinkers of the autonomy of “local societies” (Magnaghi 2000, De Rita e Bonomi 1998).

Actually, both the neighbourhood and the community ideas hide similar conceptual and political “traps” (Bagnasco 1999), against which territorial and urban policies are not likely to have been inoculated yet. One of the original characters of the integrated programmes is rather the peculiar link between general issues –such as social exclusion or economic development- and the local action. From this point of view the idea of a “locality” is like of that a cosmopolitan network which exploits the “hidden resources” of the locality, joining local and global knowledge (Hannerz in Perulli 2000, p. 46).

Community however is not the only source of stimulus for local development initiatives. Recently, the idea of local society as a complex web of relations has been re-introduced even in the core of economic science. In the spirit of the integrated programmes, as described in the last paragraph, it is maintained that territorial criteria influence economic development and social equitableness. Even more so, the economic relevance of localities is acknowledged by regional policies inspired by the (mainly Krugman’s) theory of global competition (for the Italian case, see a review in: Barca and Pellegrini 2000).

It is quite clear that the integrated action for local development impinge upon a shared theoretical hypothesis (already included in manuals: Musu e Cazzavillan 1997): “localities” rest upon a hidden potential. The local project resorts to social capital in order to exploit such unmobile and often unknown resources.

On the other hand, the survey of local development practices offers far more mixed results. Local actions have sometimes led to unintelligible outcomes, an issue that questions the adequacy of local actions to match policy aims. It is an important question, yet one that cannot be met purely on theoretical grounds.

Eventually, the ideal-type of spatial concept underlying the local development initiative is characterised by three features: the spatial voluntarism, the idea of spoiling the sediment of “hidden resources”, in a strategic framework mixed up with collusive and opportunistic attitudes.

Conclusions

A few common features of most European actions have been detected in the survey of the earlier attempts of Southern Italian programmes. In practice, the survey has shown several weaknesses, those included the number and variety of local actions, a highly nuanced model of integration; a weak theoretical basis. The spreading and success of actions in front of an apparent unsymmetry between the rationale and the action-plan of the programmes is particularly striking.

However, some issues seem more general as shown by the comparison with foreign examples. The European integrated actions -when addressing the issue of local development- need an adequate conceptualisation both of the local society and of the development model. Other integrated programmes –for instance, in the field of urban policy – have cared more about matching the representation and the model of action (Turok 1991), the ideas of “quartiers” and of community acting somehow as paradigms.

In conclusion, the spatial logic of European actions seems an effect rather than a deliberation. It appears, however, blurred along the stratified boundaries of different programmes and justified on somehow fragile theoretical basis. Yet it results of increasing political importance, because of the spatial management of differences in an enlarged Europe (Cremaschi 2002b). A few broad issues question the expansion of area-based initiatives.

The first is the adequacy of a partnership and participatory model to enact a sustainable development process in less developed regions: such integrated programme for local development targets the most difficult aim, in the most difficult environment. This is a general issue that requires careful attention in the balance of policy initiatives, particularly at the European level and in the process of enlargement of the Union, a concern already expressed with regard to the urban policy area (Cremaschi 2002b).

A second major weakness is about the description of the territory. When the spatial concept of local society is ritual and not relevant, as possibly with the “local development agreements” (yet the new programming in Italy is far from reaching evaluable outcomes), the “agreed” vision tends to be weak, and the territorial criteria less coherent. It is worth to considering whether regional planning and economic analysis have been able to introduce yielding and productive territorial images.

A further issue arises from the superimposing of programmes. If new programmes join a number of others targeting the same area -or neighbouring areas- the issue arises of co-ordinating such actions. On the one hand, a spatial development framework is needed to direct local actions (an issue more and more at stake of the European planning reform: Cremaschi 2002b); on the other, an “agreed vision” is required in order to underpin the framework. As known, these double requirements are anything but easy to uphold. In particular, difficulties are apparent when and where local authorities are weak, which is likely to happen for instance in Southern regions.

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