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36 Publications

Localising the Sustainable Development Goals in Europe: Perspectives for the north

How do Nordic and European organisations support Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) implementation at the local level? Which initiatives are relevant for different Nordic countries? This report considers localisation efforts and serves as a guide, with the references providing information and background on selected Nordic and European SDG localisation efforts, reflecting important objectives, priorities, and key activities of the different institutions, organisations, and programmes. The aim of the report is to help navigate among the available resources and to identify which initiatives, networks, or tools might be most suitable for a given context and available capacities. According to the author of the report Diana N. Huynh, Junior Research Fellow at Nordregio, this report addresses primarily a Norwegian context, but it also builds on previous Nordregio work and Nordic Council of Minister’s publications. In many ways, it is taking stock and consolidating Nordic efforts to localise the 2030 Agenda with a European outlook in mind. Moving forward, it will be important to (re)consider how the Nordic countries are supporting regional and local level SDG implementation through national policies and action plans. Also – looking at the potential to strengthen policy coherence and/or indicator frameworks not just as it is planned and carried out within each country but across the Nordic Region. The report was published together with The Norwegian Association of Local and Regional Authorities (KS). It provides an inspiration and further references to advance the work on Agenda 2030.

Unlocking the potential of silver economy in the Nordic Region

Silver economy – all economic activities linked to older age groups – has emerged as a response to population ageing in Europe in recent years. Many older people continue to make valuable economic and societal contributions after retirement, and older citizens can provide significant economic and societal benefits, particularly if they are healthy and active. This study examines policies and initiatives to promote the silver economy and the closely related concepts of healthy ageing, active ageing and age-friendliness. The report seeks to uncover what are the preconditions for expanding the Nordic silver economy, and how cross-border collaboration can help enhance the potential of the silver economy in border regions. The prerequisites for expanding the Nordic silver economy seem to be relatively good compared with many other European countries. The general trend also shows that employment rates are increasing among older age groups, which seems to be connected to the pension system reforms that have been implemented in several countries. Population ageing has gained increased policy attention in many Nordic regions and municipalities. This includes the border regions of Trøndelag (Norway) and Jämtland Härjedalen (Sweden), studied in this report, where numerous policy initiatives have been launched as a response to population ageing. Many of these initiatives can be seen as contributing to strengthening the silver economy, although the concept itself does not figure on the policy agendas in these regions. Report of the project ‘Unlocking the potential of silver economy in the Nordic Region’ carried out under the Nordic Thematic Group for Sustainable Rural Development (2017–2020).

Agenda 2030 and SDGs at the local level – a brief start-up guide

The Nordic countries are often placed at the top of global rankings on sustainable development. Well-established democratic systems are in place to fight poverty, promote economic growth and ensure gender equality, as well as to protect the environment and peace and justice. Much of the success of the Nordic Region stems from the local system of governance, under which many decisions are taken in local democratic forums. In the Nordic countries, municipalities are the most local form of official public authority with elected politicians. In many ways, municipalities and regions support the wellbeing of our everyday lives in the Nordic Region. They provide public services such as infrastructure, waste treatment and social services. Therefore, local and regional authorities are critical to the overall successful implementation of the sustainability ambitions established at other government levels. A change towards sustainable development will not occur without the commitment of the local and regional governments. In October 2019, the Nordic Council of Ministers organised an event in Stockholm for Nordic municipalities and other local authorities to meet and exchange their experiences in working with Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This policy brief provides a synthesis of conclusions from the event, findings from a previous study on the topic and the authors’ experience within the sustainability field.

Planning for agglomeration economies in a polycentric region

Envisioning an efficient metropolitan core area in Flanders. To some degree, metropolitan regions owe their existence to the ability to valorize agglomeration economies. The general perception is that agglomeration economies increase with city size, which is why economists tend to propagate urbanization, in this case in the form of metropolization. Contrarily, spatial planners traditionally emphasize the negative consequences of urban growth in terms of liveability, environmental quality, and congestion. Polycentric development models have been proposed as a specific form of metropolization that allow for both agglomeration economies and higher levels of liveability and sustainability. This paper addresses the challenge of how such polycentric development can be achieved in planning practice. We introduce ‘agglomeration potential maps’ that visualize potential locations in a polycentric metropolitan area where positive agglomeration externalities can be optimized. These maps are utilized in the process of developing a new spatial vision for Flanders’ polycentric ‘metropolitan core area’, commonly known as the Flemish Diamond. The spatial vision aspires to determine where predicted future population growth in the metropolitan core area could best be located, while both optimizing positive agglomeration externalities and maintaining its small-scale morphological character. Based on a literature review of optimum urban-size thresholds and our agglomeration potential maps, we document how such maps contributed to developing this spatial vision for the Flemish metropolitan core area.

An Institutionalist View on Experimentalist Governance: Local-level obstacles to policy-learning in European Union Cohesion Policy

The paper has the dual objective of contributing to theory development as well as to the debate about the added value of EU Cohesion Policy. Experimentalist governance theory suggests that a virtuous feedback loop between policy design and implementation can the input- and output-legitimacy of policy making. EU Cohesion Policy formally resembles this experimentalist setting, but persistent debates about its added value suggest that the virtuous loop is blocked. The paper uses new institutionalism theory to systematically identify theoretical explanations for this blockage. It argues that the experimentalist link between organizational structure, pooling of experiences, greater participation, and policy learning is highly precarious. First, the rational-choice perspective suggests that the link rests on the optimistic assumption of a common utility function among the participating actors. Moreover, the structural funds provide strong incentives for grant-seeking. Second, the discursive perspective shows that the identification of shared interests depends on highly demanding speech conditions. Third, the sociological perspective highlights that the evaluation of information is socially conditioned. Therefore, learning may be based on fallacious assumptions and lead to undesired results. The paper substantiates these insights with empirical evidence from one case of institutionalized cross-border cooperation in East Central Europe. This article is published by the European Journal of Spatial Development, which in turn is published by Nordregio and Delft University of Technology, Faculty of Architecture and the Built Environment.

The construction of a trading zone as political strategy: a review of London Infrastructure Plan 2050

The recent London Infrastructure Plan 2050 appears as an attempt for coming up with innovative answers to infrastructure issues, aiming at providing new spaces where different actors can collaborate, defining adequate visions and governance bodies. Our hypothesis is that the plan can be interpreted through the relevant and yet ambiguous concept of ‘trading zone’, which highlights the setting up of new spaces for confrontation but also shows their use as political vehicles to advocate for increased powers and resources. To investigate the issue, the paper reviews the literature on the concept of trading zone in order to discuss in this perspective the London Infrastructure Plan planning process. The analysis is developed as follows: after a theoretical discussion of trading zones and their relationship with infrastructure planning processes, two significant aspects of the London Infrastructure Plan are examined: the stakeholders’ engagement required by strategic planning processes, and the ongoing planning processes of London, influenced by the Localism agenda. Consequently, the London Infrastructure Plan 2050 is described and reviewed in the light of its political strategic meaning, providing a discussion of its vision, contents and planning process. The analysis uses and rediscusses the concept of trading zone by observing how local authorities may use planning processes to strategically position themselves and influence the complex governance of infrastructure planning. This article is published by the European Journal of Spatial Development, which in turn is published by Nordregio and Delft University of Technology, Faculty of Architecture and the Built Environment.

Bioenergy and rural development in Europe: Policy recommendations from the TRIBORN project

Policy recommendations from the TRIBORN research project and stakeholder consultations, 2014-17. Since 2014, the TRIBORN research project has investigated how to increase the production of bioenergy in ways that promote sustainable development, including jobs and social development in rural areas. Local renewable energy initiatives play a prominent role in the proposed EU Renewable Energy Directive for 2020-30 (RED2020-30). The IEA, OECD, the EU Commission and national governments are increasingly aware of this role, and of the importance of reducing the barriers to their – often innovative – development. The OECD (2012) has also stressed the need to ensure positive outcomes for local people and rural communities in the expansion of renewable energy and bioenergy. Based on comparative case studies with user participation in Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Italy, the TRIBORN project has aimed to identify drivers and obstacles to sustainable bioenergy innovation and growth in rural areas. And how to facilitate the design of innovation systems that produce Triple Bottom Line (TBL) (economic, social, environmental) benefits, and promote the achievement of national bioenergy targets. In this policy brief, project results have been translated into concrete policy recommendations for decision makers at local, regional, national and EU levels.

Multi-level Territorial Governance and Cohesion Policy: Structural Funds and the Timing of Development in Palermo and the Italian Mezzogiorno

This article explores the role of changing arrangements of multi-level territorial governance in the European Cohesion Policy. It hypothesises the existence of a temporal duality between successful/unsuccessful phases of Cohesion Policy between the 1990s and 2000s, that is, a structural change in the implementation of Structural Funds stemming from the reforms at the turn of the millennium. The article seeks to understand the implications of such a duality using case study analysis, with the theoretical aim of exploring in-depth the connections between the European and the local scale. It analyses in the long term (1994-2013) the use of Structural Funds for urban development in a specific context, the city of Palermo in the Objective 1 region of Sicily, under-explored by international literature. The phases of Structural Funds are understood in the wider context of Palermo, Sicily and Southern Italy, emphasising the temporal coherence between (i) the phases of autonomous/dependent development, (ii) evolution/involution in the implementation of cohesion policies, and (iii) shifting multi-level territorial governance arrangements. The local case confirms the duality hypothesised and, based on this, wider considerations for the future of Cohesion Policy are set out. This article is published by the European Journal of Spatial Development (archive), which in turn is published by Nordregio and Delft University of Technology, Faculty of Architecture and the Built Environment.

Transit-oriented development and sustainable urban planning

This policy brief considers how links between transport and land-use planning policies can be promoted in urban and regional development strategies. It primarily targets urban policymakers in Europe wanting to learn more about the notion of transit-oriented development (TOD) and how the concept is implemented in practical projects. The term transit-oriented development (TOD) is rarely used in Europe, even though the concept has been intrinsic in planning practice across many countries. TOD is sometimes called by other names or included in sets of related policies and concepts. In this policy brief we provide an introduction to TOD related urban policies in Amsterdam, Vienna and Stockholm including illustrative examples. Current planning policy in Austria, the Netherlands, and Sweden indicate support for sustainable and resilient urban and regional development, and includeTOD in some way. However, recent trends in liberalization and the recent economic crisis have favoured more market-led developments. As a result, the interests of developers are generally placed ahead of strategic efforts to structure cities and regions in more environmentally sustainable ways. The information presented in this Policy Brief is derived from a review of the concept and its application in different parts of Europe.The review was carried out as part of the JPI Urban Europe CASUAL project.

When soft planning and hard planning meet: Conceptualising the encounter of European, national and sub-national planning

Despite continuous research efforts, the role of the European Union regarding spatial planning remains unclear. This article proposes to employ the concepts of soft spaces and soft planning to better comprehend how European spatial planning finds its way into the national planning systems. The EU contributes to the creation of soft spaces, differing from administrative entities, while at the same time, it acts as a driver of soft planning, focusing– both for strategic and legal reasons – on coordination, cooperation and mutual learning, rather than ‘hard’, regulatory planning. The article claims further that instead of depicting the connections between the EU and its member states, research should pay increased attention to the encounter of European and domestic planning within a country. The scales, actors and instruments that deal with EU inputs within a country might prove to be crucial factors that ultimately determine the impact of EU policies on spatial planning. To illustrate the encounter of European and domestic planning in the light of soft and hard planning, the article introduces a conceptual framework and thereby provides an outline for further empirical research. This article is published by the European Journal of Spatial Development (archive), which in turn is published by Nordregio and Delft University of Technology, Faculty of Architecture and the Built Environment.

Social Innovation (SI) in local development in the Nordic countries and Scotland

This project investigates the role of Social Innovation (SI) and how it can respond to the challenges facing rural and remote regions in Nordic countries. These regions are facing continuing rural-urban migration, which not only...