In a context where European integration is put into question, under the weight of external (migration, safety issues, economic) and centrifugal forces (Brexit, growing Euroscepticism), European spatial planning has been somewhat sidelined in the debates on the European Union’s goals, cohesion and future. Following a session organised at the IPHS conference in Delft in 2016, Valeria Lingua (University of Florence) and Marcin Dąbrowski (TU Delft) co-edited a special issue of Planning Perspectives on the history of European spatial planning. The special issue is now available online, including two papers in Open Access format.

The whole effort was inspired by Andreas Faludi and responds to André Sorensen’s (University of Toronto) call for “taking path dependence seriously” in planning research (2015). Stefanie Dühr (University of South Australia), Andreas Faludi, Wil Zonneveld, Valeria Lingua, Kasia Piskorek, Marcin Dąbrowski and, last but not least, André Sorensen himself, have all contributed to this collection of papers.

The special issue aims to improve our understanding of European spatial planning  by revisiting its history – from its origins, gradual institutionalisation to its current rolling back – and by exploring it both at the European and the national level, stressing its difficulties and idiosyncrasies. The conceptual framework of historical institutionalism is used across the papers in an attempt to shed more light on this processes, through the analysis of critical junctures and path dependency of planning and cohesion agendas, transnational networks as well as changes to the national institutions and planning systems.

This tightly woven collection of papers touches upon not only the underlying arguments for European cohesion, but also the questions about the future of European spatial planning as an ‘EU microcosm’ in light of current discussions concerning democratic credentials and legitimacy of the EU project as a whole.

Please take a look at the abstracts and links to the papers below… and read on!

Reference: Sorensen, A. (2015). Taking path dependence seriously: an historical institutionalist research agenda in planning history. Planning Perspectives30(1), 17-38.


Introduction: historical institutionalist perspectiveson European spatial planning

By Marcin Dąbrowski & Valeria Lingua

A historical institutionalist account of European spatial planning

This paper explains the limited success of the European Spatial Development Perspective pointing to fault lines in the institutional architecture of European integration and the view that the EU has no business in national spatial planning. So, along with the experts at the Commission, the EU has been sidelined. Spending departments at both national as well as at EU level have more clout than planning anyhow. Later, the EU did obtain a competence, if not for spatial planning, then for territorial cohesion. In anticipation, member states adopted their own Territorial Agenda of the European Union. Neither it, nor EU territorial cohesion policy proper went far. Part of EU Cohesion policy, European Territorial Cooperation serves as a substitute. The continuing primacy which the EU institutional architecture gives to member states explains why. But this implies that European space is conceptualized as the sum of state jurisdiction, a view challenged by a fluid, dynamic spatial reality.

KEYWORDS: Historical institutionalismEuropean spatial planningterritorial cohesion

CRONWE: first attempts to institutionalize European spatial planning

By Wil Zonneveld

This paper is about a relatively unknown north-west European organization of spatial planning: the (standing) Conference for Spatial Planning in North-Western Europe. The founders of CRONWE tried to create a European spatial planning approach that could influence spatial development in the early years of European integration as the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) and later the European Economic Community (EEC) were created. Spatial development, as a topic to be addressed, never reached the negotiation tables though, and CRONWE was created as a permanent platform for discussion with the obvious hope that gradually ‘Europe’ would recognize the relevance and even necessity of European spatial planning. In this paper we use a number of basic concepts of the historical institutionalist approach towards planning research; in particular institutionalization, critical junctures, and path dependency. We apply these concepts to analyse and evaluate the four decades that CRONWE existed. We are particularly interested in assessing why the CRONWE planning agenda remained marginal in the European integration process.

KEYWORDS: Historical institutionalismCRONWENorth-West EuropeEECECSCEuropean spatial planning

A Europe of ‘Petites Europes’: an evolutionary perspective on transnational cooperation on spatial planning

By Stefanie Dühr

Using a historical-institutionalist framework, this paper discusses the emergence and evolution of transnational cooperation initiatives in post-war Europe. A number of critical junctures can be identified at which different goals and approaches were introduced. Due to the path-dependent nature of institutional arrangements, this has resulted in increasingly fuzzy rationales and contradictory objectives for transnational regions in Europe today. The paper concludes with a reflection on the value of historical institutionalism to identify the malleability of such complex policy concepts and the key challenges that transnational regions are facing due to unresolved tensions in their policy design and evolution.

KEYWORDS: Transnational cooperationhistorical institutionalismEU macro-regionalstrategiesregion-buildingINTERREGtransnational regions

The development of strategic spatial planning in Central and Eastern Europe: between path dependence, European influence, and domestic politics

By Marcin Dąbrowski &Katarzyna Piskorek

Focusing on three of the Central and Eastern European countries  Poland, Czech Republic, and Hungary  the paper investigates the evolution of spatial planning systems and the introduction of strategic planning practices from the beginning of the post-communist transition in the early 1990s to the present. It sheds new light on this issue by applying the conceptual lens of historical institutionalism to explain this process and elucidate the role of the accession to the European Union (EU) as a catalyst for change. In particular, the paper identifies and analyses the critical junctures at which path dependencies emerged and later constrained the capacity of the regional and local actors to adjust to the EU Cohesion Policy framework and engage in strategic planning as part of it.

KEYWORDS: Strategic planningEuropeanisationEU Cohesion Policyhistorical institutionalismPolandCzech RepublicHungary

Institutionalizing EU strategic spatial planning into domestic planning systems: trajectories of change in Italy and England

By Valeria Lingua

This paper proposes approaching the emergence and evolution of the Europeanization of national planning using conceptual frameworks from historical institutionalism in order to shed light on the mechanisms and trajectories of domestic change arising from the influence of EU strategic planning. It seeks in particular to examine Europeanization in terms of the extent to which EU spatial planning has become a driving force for institutional changes in very different national planning systems. Returning to the changes that occurred in the Italian and English planning systems in the last two decades, the author provides insight into the attempts to insert and transpose EU spatial planning concepts and instruments into domestic systems, dealing with path dependency and European influence. By reading these processes from a historical institutionalist perspective, the paper aims to enhance understanding of the relative influence of European spatial planning on national planning systems, identifying mechanisms and trajectories of domestic change in different planning systems. Key findings concern the diverse modes and degree of institutionalization of EU strategic spatial planning, examining tendencies to replace the status quo through displacements in England and to progress through a path-dependent trajectory in Italy.

KEYWORDS: Strategic spatial planninginstitutionalizationdomestic planning systemEuropean influenceItalyEnglandEuropeanizationEU spatial planning

Multiscalar governance and institutional change: critical junctures in European spatial plannin

By André Sorensen

Change of major social institutions sometimes takes place during relatively compressed periods in which previously relatively stable institutions are transformed. Historical institutionalism and comparative historical analysis refer to these turning points as critical junctures, and have developed a valuable set of conceptual frames and research methods for their systematic and comparative study. A core idea of the critical junctures approach is that periods of significant institutional change often result in distinct outcomes in different cases, and sometimes produce enduring consequences in the form of subsequent pathways of institutional development. If this is so, then careful analysis of the dynamics of such change processes, the factors that enable change and those that shape outcomes in each case are important projects for planning history. This essay draws on recent research on permissive and productive conditions of institutional change, the fractal-like quality of multi-scalar institutional change, comparative sequential analysis, process-tracing, and counterfactual analysis in developing an analysis of the broader significance of the European spatial planning policies examined in the papers included in this special issue. A final section considers some of the distinctive characteristics of critical junctures at urban and regional scales compared to those at national or transnational scales in the light of these cases.

KEYWORDS: Institutional changecritical juncturesbranching processescounterfactual analysisterritorializationpermissive and productive conditionsfractals


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