A new equilibrium between functional powers and the need for “glocal” strategies and policies

ESPON IMAGINE targeted analysis provides new spatial imaginaries feeding territorial cohesion policies

The scale and nature of contemporary urban restructuring processes are so complex and challenging that cities and metropolitan areas can hardly deal with both the premises and consequences of such a change merely acting within their official administrative boundaries. During the last decades, the growing gap between consolidated forms of urban governance and the nature, rhythm, and dimension of socio-spatial economic change often generated a lack of strategic visions and innovative governance framework. Consequently, local policymakers and urban stakeholders seem unable to react and deal with the growing economic differentiation between places and the emergence of new forms of marginalization, seriously threatening territorial cohesion.

IMAGINE is a ESPON targeted analysis research project aimed at exploring the potential of Integrated Territorial Investments (ITI). These latter are seen as an innovative governance tool for local authorities and as a catalyst and accelerator of disruptive socio-spatial imaginaries, capable of overcoming and expanding consolidated conceptions, generating new territorial narratives, and mobilizing them into operational policy instruments.

Indeed, the hypothesis underlying IMAGINE is that innovative tools and policy instruments as the ITI, promoted under 2014-2020 cohesion policy, shall be complemented by a consistent territorial narrative shared between policymakers and social and economic stakeholders, capable of envisioning new transformative scenarios at different spatial scales, including the urban, the regional and above.

Towards an integrated urban region: the high-speed corridor Milano-Bologna

ESPON IMAGINE focuses on the macro-region Milano-Bologna, in North Italy, characterized primarily by the recent introduction of a high-speed corridor that connects the two metropolitan areas, crossing Lombardia and Emilia Romagna regions. The research aims to understand to what extent this infrastructure and the related mobility supply could be considered the backbone of the re-organization of socio-economic patterns on the broader macro-region, focusing in particular the creative and innovative economy and the transport and logistics industry.

Local authorities and relevant functional stakeholders are the protagonists of the elaboration of new territorial visions. The project is based on a series of regional workshops aimed at co-creating an integrated territorial strategy shared between metropolitan cities, municipalities, provincial authorities, and regions, local and regional stakeholders exploring the potentialities of informal coordination and moving toward more formalized, strategic cooperation under the EU policy framework.

The first round of "Regional workshops" highlighted how the IMAGINE's Italian stakeholders (Città Metropolitana di Milano and Bologna, provinces of Pavia and Piacenza) are working towards collaborative tools/funds for territorial equalization.  Nevertheless, the demand for change raised by spatial imaginaries is not moving yet the interest for a different political response.

Are spatial scenarios sufficient to prepare a change in the institutional scenario?

This is the question raised by Piero Bassetti (Globus et Locus), who also underlined the emergence of a new equilibrium between ‘functional powers’, which are based on a different scale and nature from the traditional territorial one, and the consequent need for “glocal” strategies and policies - local and global at the same time - to act effectively in these spaces.

Based on their experience, international stakeholders of IMAGINE (METREX, PoPSu, and Warsaw's metropolitan area) highlighted the importance to involve new transcalar actors and discussed the role of spatial imaginaries not only as representation methods but also as performative tools capable of aggregating consensus and providing input for the political agenda. In this respect, IMAGINE also aims to deploy a digital platform that will enable the possibility of “seeing like a region” to support a new perspective on territorial dynamics as a basis to develop new political visions and agendas.

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