International Planning & Developing Regions

This theme undertakes a comparative analysis of varying forms of intervention through spatial planning and territorial management in Europe and developing regions in the world. There is an emphasis on building valid methodology for international case studies, comparison and policy transfer. There is a continuing demand for international comparison and cases as countries and regions seek to learn from other places in a context of increasing global integration. The need for more effective intervention through spatial planning and broader territorial governance has never been greater, whether tackling fragmented metropolitan development in Europe or the needs of widespread informal settlement in developing regions. International cases and comparisons have an important role in providing theoretical insights through the deeper examination of culture-bound concepts (such as ‘plan’) and thus the avoidance of overgeneralisations and domination of western theory. International comparisons can reveal the importance of national conditions otherwise taken for granted and to establish conceptual equivalence. Many researchers need to address the methodological and ethical questions arising from international working. Three broad geographical areas are of particular interest: Europe, South-east Asia and Latin America. The international planning theme is closely connected to the other urbanism research themes where they involve international comparisons and case studies. The theme brings a particular specialism in comparative methodologies and the understanding of the cultural context for urban development and spatial planning, especially in developing regions.

Research in this theme concentrates on three sets of questions:

(1) How are approaches and tools changing to deal with critical territorial challenges, particularly risks associated with climate change, the spatial dimension of the knowledge economy and the networked metropolitan region? To what degree are approaches converging?


(2) How well do spatial planning concepts travel? To what degree are planning concepts equivalent (or universal) and to what extent are they culturally-bound locally?  How does this affect the policy transfer process and learning process, especially from west to east and south.


(3) How can integrated territorial management be provided in more difficult contexts where there is rapid urbanisation weak governance, or urban emergencies following environmental and other disasters?

Metropolitan Spatial Structure

This theme is concerned with understanding the evolution of metropolitan spatial structure, and the performance of different regional spatial structures in terms of economic competitiveness, environmental sustainability and social well-being. It is concerned with linking planning strategy and practice positively with improved knowledge of spatial structure and performance.

Through the twentieth century to today the region has occupied a privileged position in thinking about urban form and process. The emphasis on the region as the critical scale for understanding urban development goes back to Patrick Geddes. He replaced the city as the unit of analysis with an ‘organic’ region whose relations and dynamics included the city and its functional and meaningful surround. Lewis Mumford and Clarence Stein saw the region as context and condition of an organic city and society of the future. Jean Gottmann saw it as an effect of a dynamic process of metropolitan urbanisation and social reorganisation. Today we understand regions as those spaces within which diverse types of agglomeration economies coexist, triggering urban synergies once only a character of the nuclear city.

The metropolitan region is today a complex configuration of places, functions and movements that is by its nature polynuclear. This polynuclearity can take different forms, from the ‘monocentric’ extreme where one centre dominates the others and concentrates power, to more ‘polycentric’ versions where more or less complementary centres distribute power across regions. Today the metropolitan region is the frame for thinking about processes like agglomeration, centrality, sustainability, (auto)mobility and (sub)urbanisation. It is the frame for thinking about transformation under conditions of modernisation, globalisation, new movement and communications technologies, new business organisation, new global and regional economies and other regionally specific conditions of growth and development. It is increasingly the frame for discussion about changing urban localities and identities, social, functional and migration patterns, and scales and institutions of governance. Our concern is with urban form and structure at all scale levels from that of the street and neighbourhood to that of whole regions. The region is however the structure and frame in which smaller-scaled structures such as neighbourhoods are contextualised and understood, often as problems of increasing social and spatial fragmentation.

We develop models of urban and regional structuring and transformation. We use these to research the relationships between regional form and economic competitiveness, environmental sustainability and social well-being and to model the social, economic and environmental performance of regions. We continuously track and interpret changes in patterns of urbanisation and in regional structure in the Randstad and other regions, and compare different regions using common modelling protocols and indicators. We formulate methods and guidelines for the building of economically and socially advantageous and sustainable cities and metropolitan regions in order to bring the results of this research to planners, designers and policy-makers in usable forms.

Our perspective on the region is, at least partly, a consequence of our situation in the Randstad, an archetypical polycentric agglomeration, from which we derive knowledge that may inform views of other agglomerations.


Regional Governance, Planning & Design

This theme is concerned with the governance of metropolitan regions in the context of the increasing complexity and fragmentation of spatial relationships. It investigates the role of spatial planning and regional design in managing regions, especially the Randstad.

Regional planning and design – at least in the Netherlands – is caught in a seemingly paradoxical situation: on the one hand spatial planning loses political influence, whereas on the other hand the availability, abundance and quality of urban and regional design methods is increasing. At the same time it is at the regional level where many territorial issues come together. In the Netherlands this is especially the case in the Randstad which forms our key research area.

This situation arises in a wider spatial development context that is changing fundamentally. New patterns of interaction and movement are emerging from locational choices made by people and enterprises. The result is increasing spatial fragmentation. Also, there is increased complexity in the spatial pattern of activities and their relationships at various spatial scales with new forms of clustering in patterns of networked regions. Sustainable accessibility is however under enormous pressure as the result of a lack of integration between transport networks and between these networks and the urban fabric. These developments create enormous challenges for politics and planning and the governance of territories.

Classic forms of government based upon clear-cut divisions in terms of administrative levels, policy sectors and the public and private domains are less relevant. One outcome is a rapid accumulation of consultation, coordination and partnership structures. Another outcome is the emergence of more flexible forms of governance working around traditional arrangements and formal jurisdictions which do not coincide with actual spatial relationships and levels of functional integration. The result is a complex pattern of overlapping governance regions characterized by fuzzy territorial boundaries and interrelationships between public and private actors, combined with an increasing influence of the European Union through environmental and territorial cohesion policies. And although some examples of these new governance arrangements seem promising there are concerns about their effectiveness as well as their accountability and legitimacy.

The investigation of these developments follows three lines:

(1) the role and political position of spatial planning amongst other policies including the changing conditions for deliberative spatial policy making under the influence of EU policy and legislative frameworks;

(2) the emergence of new ‘metropolitan regions’ and the potential for integrative policy making in the territorial domain, with a particular emphasis on sustainable accessibility;

(3) the role of regional design tools, instruments and methods.

Our principal research question is:

To what extent can urban and regional planning and design methods serve as a catalyst for territorial transformation in general and transit oriented development in particular?

Spatial Justice


Union for the Mediterranean

UfM Working Group on Urban Regeneration

Union for the Mediterranean

UfM Working Group on Urban Regeneration