New thinking on functional urban areas, polycentric territorial structures and cross border collaboration: contributions from ESPON research


Nova Gorica, Slovenia

School Center Nova Gorica, Cankarjeva 10

16 May 2018

Cankarjeva 10
Nova Gorica

This ESPON Transnational Outreach Seminar, in Nova Gorica, Slovenia, examined new thinking on functional urban areas and cross border collaboration, with a range of expert speakers from Slovenia, Italy, Croatia, and Serbia, as well as speakers presenting ESPON projects from Norway, Germany, the UK, and Luxembourg. The organisation of this event in Nova Gorica was an ideal place for a cross-border seminar, due to its border-city character with Nova Gorica (Slovenia) and Gorizia (Italy), which are twin-cities, and together form a cross-border FUA (Functional Urban Area).

Discussions during the day reflected the growing attention in the EU to cross-border challenges and opportunities across Europe, and with particular emphasis on the Italian-Slovenian border. An important contribution to these discussions were the results from the latest ESPON research, and European practices in planning, governance, and provision of service in cross-border functional (urban) areas.

When addressing the challenges and opportunities of cross-border regions, there is no-one-size-fits-all solution, since interactions take place in the local context. It is important that regions understand what already exists to avoid duplication of infrastructures. When going beyond immediate cross-border activities, it becomes clear that spatial planning, which often stops at the border, now needs to widen its area of reflection, and examine in more depth the obstacles and the opportunities for cross-border territories.

The Slovenian spatial development strategy includes the integration into EU space, the development of efficient infrastructures, and the protection of nature, but there is still insufficient attention paid to cross-border services and to spatial structures across the border, as a consequence of jurisdiction factors. Spatial planning can play a more important role in overcoming the challenges and in exploiting opportunities. A key factor is to get services of general interest to complement rather than compete, and to improve the connectivity and organisation of public transport.

ESPON offers scientific expertise to policy-makers who seek assistance in the design of cross-border functional (urban) strategies, innovative governance models, and service solutions. Recommendations during the Seminar pointed out the importance of multi-level governance. This means building collaboration and trust, but solutions are strongly influenced by crucial factors such as legacy, path dependency, and context. Another ESPON concept is that of Metropolitan Development Areas, which adapt to the reality of territorial politics, and are often bigger than the Functional Urban Areas (FUA). This concept illustrates the views of local and regional experts on the spatial context of the metropolitan areas in terms of key urban development factors, including transport, urbanisation, environment, housing, etc. Soft collaboration can also provide solutions; setting up a framework of characteristics of collaboration, and then identified common themes. Collaboration needs a ‘community of intent’ which can be defined as a strong voluntary cooperation, with a ‘bottom-up’ component, based on perceived needs and ambitions. This solution is suitable to achieve win-win outcomes, but requires some empowerment to be effective.

In conclusion, successful collaboration in cross-border regions requires a willingness to collaborate and coordinate. It also needs experience and capacities to implement defined actions, and mutual agreement on shared goals and benefits of cooperation. It can be improved by capitalising on existing governance structures.

Discussions along the day referred to the apparent absence of the UN’s sustainable development goals in the analysis, and the importance of external influences on Europe. The Territorial Framework will be able to identify the most important trends for border regions, and predict how border regions might be different in 2030 or 2050.