Innovative practices of agglomeration projects and problems of cross-border agglomerations.

Synthesis of the exchanges of the 2004 session, Namur

Remi Dormois, Helen Barthe Batsalle, Rémi Dormois, Roger Hagelstein, Yves Hanin, 2004

The first edition of the exchange platform on urban agglomerations took place in La-Chaux-de-Fonds (Switzerland) on 22, 23 and 24 May 20031. The objective of this seminar was to compare the experiences and reflections of the three countries represented - Belgium, France and Switzerland - on « the creation and functioning of agglomerations : first lessons from national practices ".

Key questions raised during the first edition

Several questions common to the participants from the three countries were discussed without necessarily leading to convergence:

  • what definitions should be given to the concepts of agglomeration, for which relevant territory(ies), according to an approach based on objectives, means, tools or institutions

  • what is a specifically urban agglomeration project,

  • through the practices of agglomeration leaders, what are the objectives pursued, the keys to success, the instruments for implementing this vision.

Issues addressed in the second edition

Three themes were chosen to structure the second platform held in Namur (Belgium) on March 18, 19 and 20, 2004.

  1. What definition could be given to the agglomeration community, through the experiences of the three countries?

  2. What are the specific problems of cross-border conurbations?

  3. What can we learn from agglomeration projects about collective learning processes, modes of regulation and innovative approaches?

During the first meeting, case studies, with meetings of actors, as in the case of the Neuchâtel Urban Network (RUN) project, were deemed necessary to stimulate the debates.

Taking into account the wishes expressed by the participants, the second edition of the exchange platform was structured in three workshops

  • innovative practices in agglomeration projects

  • problems of cross-border conurbations

  • Walloon agglomeration policy : paths for new strategies

A morning visit to the Centre Urban Community (CUC - La Louvière) was an opportunity to discover its ambitions, achievements and underlying issues.

This summary is intended for the participants of the Namur platform. It sets out the main issues discussed during the workshops, presents the positions taken and raises new questions. The conclusion proposes a collective evaluation made at the end of the seminar and suggests possible themes for the third edition.

1. Innovative practices of agglomeration projects

Starting with innovative agglomeration projects, the first workshop focused on the content and methods of developing such projects. It appeared interesting to look back at the Walloon (La Louvière) and Swiss experiences.

Elements of debate on the practices of Walloon and Swiss agglomerations

In examining the actions proposed by the CUC2 (the «  possible  » of the project), P. Olivier highlighted the «  existential  » issue that generates the collective project : loss of 60,000 jobs in 30 years, lack of institutional recognition of the conurbation as a territory of solidarity, competition between neighboring cities, dual membership of some municipalities torn between La Louvière and Charleroi.

In the absence of a process initiated by the central state, the dynamics of the project (I want) come from the grassroots (the project’s bearers, mainly a few elected officials), while the institutional constraint (I must) is rather opposed to the constitution of communities of communes. The dual membership of some of the communes is a source of contradiction: it is an obstacle in terms of cohesion in action. But this ambiguous status creates a dynamic of negotiation, or even partnership on a voluntary basis between antagonistic territories, those of Charleroi, La Louvière and Mons. One may wonder whether institutionalizing the status of dual membership does not lead to slowing down the internal dynamism of the Louvière conurbation. Experience shows, however, that it is possible to manage this variable-geometry inter-municipal solidarity flexibly, taking care not to put neighbouring conurbations in competition with each other in areas such as economic development, taxation or transport.

A look at the Swiss experiences3 (the agglomerations of Basel, Neuchâtel, Fribourg, Lausanne and Geneva) reveals a diversity of innovative practices that reflect a search for the most appropriate operating methods. The institutional constraints of the federal agglomeration policy are pushing for innovation, but the cities are cautious and are proceeding step by step. L. Boulianne analyzes the current experiments as a learning process in a loop. This explains the development of agglomeration projects by making them evolve around functional (leaders) / institutional (elected officials and civil servants) and relational (citizens / supporters) logics.

The debate shows that the dynamics of the agglomeration project in Switzerland stem from a game of multiple actors, leading to different solutions depending on the canton. The process consists of inventing approaches.

The loop process leads to a few observations. Depending on the case, the project develops in a spiral (amplification effect) or runs out of steam. Time is a non-neutral component in this process : after a while, there is no longer a clearly identified starting point in the process.

Some argue that the project management (the leaders) must be professionalized, one of the key factors of success, in order to sustain the process. There are two opposing positions on another success factor: some advocate a dynamic of association of actors through individual projects, while others advocate the implementation of global strategies initiated by the institutional channel. In the field, the process often begins with projects initiated on the basis of voluntary collaboration; then, when the project reaches the limits of spontaneous collaboration, there is a need for institutionalization, which makes the collaboration binding.

The exchanges can be summarized around two dimensions of the agglomeration project process: territoriality and temporality. These two dimensions are largely in tension, depending on whether the process is built on local initiatives or whether it is incited, i.e. given, by the national institutional context.

The question of the territoriality of the urban agglomeration project process

When the process is given, the content, scope, competences, issues, actors, tools and even means seem to be clearly determined. The need to establish a new territorial level of agglomeration is presented as a matter of course by the promoters. In this context, the weight of the «  obligatory  » (I must) framework prevails. In the event of implementation difficulties, the evaluations highlight perverse effects, opportunistic use, lack of solidarity between communes, the leader’s inability to impose himself, etc. The difficulties are also explained by a lack of synchronization of temporalities between actors (leaders, elected officials, citizens, etc.) or an inability to move through the stages.

Conversely, when the process is initiated on the basis of local dynamics, it is frequently dominated by the «  wish  » (I would like). In this case, the content, spatial scope, consultation methods, etc., are usually not very similar from one initiative to another. The overall project is constructed according to the singular projects of local actors. The agglomeration project then takes the form of an assembly of multiple sectoral and partial projects. Some people define this diversity as a flight of fancy and a lack of coordination or global vision.

Nevertheless, whether the process is given or constructed, there is a convergence on two points. On the one hand, the process aims to recognize from above or below a territory with a new scope characterized by questions of relations between the city and the periphery, associative dynamics and finally services, equipment and large infrastructures for common use. On the other hand, the process is based on the complementarity between the dynamics initiated or encouraged and the diagnosis that aims to objectify, evaluate, become aware of specific underlying issues and recognize both internal disparities and relevant spatial scales within the area under consideration.

The question of the temporality of the urban agglomeration project process

When the process is given, a timetable, deadlines and even a phasing are prescribed. Conversely, when the process is constructed, the temporality of the process is essentially a matter for local actors. In this case, the synchronization of local actors’ schedules is often a difficulty in the short and medium term.

But this question of temporality also appears through the interplay of generations. Several participants stressed the difficulty of bringing the agglomeration project into line with the local context, which appears to be from another age (traditional managers, crisis situation not overcome, etc.). Conversely, a difficulty also arises from the actors who initiated the project and who are looking for groups to take over.

This second perspective of « transfer » can also be approached through the sequences of the territorial project process. In concrete terms, four phases have been mentioned :

This vision in terms of territoriality and temporality demonstrates once again that the central question is that of the definition or specificity of the agglomeration project. Indeed, on many points the aspects developed are similar to those encountered in other territorial project approaches.

Innovative practices show complex games and incessant questioning. The process, whether encouraged or initiated, involves a great deal of feedback. In other words, the process seems to be more a matter of cumulative, complex, singular dynamics, and even of certain coincidences.

2. The problem of cross-border conurbations

The objective of the second workshop on cross-border conurbations was to address three aspects specific to them :

These aspects were presented in the following diagram proposed in the general design note of the platform.

The platform’s debates were enriched by various presentations of cross-border conurbations 4 :

The Franco-Belgian cross-border conurbation (metropolis) of COPIT

The interweaving of French and Belgian territories has created a « community of problems » in this conurbation located at the meeting point of France, Wallonia and Flanders. For the past twenty years, the communities have been forced to seek common solutions (industrial conversion, water, etc.). In the early 1990s, the conurbation benefited from major infrastructure projects (North European TGV hub, etc.), strengthening its European position. Cross-border development has not only been managed in a bi-national way, but also in a tri-cultural way, in order to respect the identity of the three components. This concern for balance is reflected in the structure of the common tool : the Permanent Cross-Border Intercommunal Conference (COPIT) created in 1991 and formalized since 2000 in the form of a Franco-Belgian association under French law (1901 law) 10.

In 1998, the five inter-municipal organizations of the Franco-Belgian metropolis (Lille Urban Community, IDETA-Tournai, IEG-Mouscron, LEIEDAL-Kortrijk and WVI-Ieper and Roeselare), united within COPIT and the Lille Metropolitan Agency for Development and Urban Planning, created a cross-border workshop to draw up a draft cross-border planning and development plan (Grootstad). This Scheme addresses various themes such as the metropolization of the territory, the development of water resources, mobility, economic competition and complementarity, the coherence of local planning, etc.

This project was concluded in 2001 and led to the publication of a Proposed Strategy for a Cross-Border Metropolis, the general objective of which is to make the cross-border territory an integrated metropolitan system, with a common development strategy and to facilitate the emergence and implementation of cross-border projects12.

The cross-border specificity of this conurbation13 is based on three strong characteristics :

There are innovative practices in the methodology (process) for developing the cross-border conurbation project 14 :

The assets within the project 15 are a common will to elaborate a cross-border development strategy and an ambition of metropolitan positioning based on a reality combining :

We identify two points of deepening (perspectives) for this cross-border metropolis project 16:

The European Development Pole, PED

Cross-border cooperation within the tri-national agglomeration of Longwy is probably the one in which the State has been most involved politically and financially. The desire to reconvert a site in crisis, after the disappearance of the steel industry, led to the creation of the European Development Pole in Longwy in 1985. Initially dedicated to job creation, this multifunctional project eventually covered all the components of local life with the main objective of « turning a community of problems into a community of destiny ».

As early as October 1993, 21 mayors and burgomasters from the three countries declared their intention to create a cross-border conurbation, supported by a joint resolution from the three states concerned. The challenge was to involve all the local players in the territorial project and to ensure that they took ownership of it. This transfer of management of the project from the State to the local authorities was not without difficulty. The creation of a cross-border urban planning observatory in 1994 in Longwy, and then of a cross-border association in 1996, bringing together the elected representatives of 21 municipalities and the representatives of the States, enabled a new start to be made in the PED by creating a precise perimeter and by constituting a homogeneous territorial reference system between the three countries (GIS mapping with consistency of urban planning documents, statistics, harmonization of definitions, etc.).

This new phase was accompanied by the drafting of a cross-border conurbation charter which defined the structuring projects and supported local projects by focusing on their greater cross-border integration. The PED has continued its development with the transformation of the Observatory into a cross-border urban planning agency (AGAPE) … and in particular the development of a cross-border business park on the Point Triple (international tertiary business park, which should eventually become the new heart of the conurbation) 17.

The cross-border specificity of this conurbation18 lies in the fact that it is a tri-national, tripolar conurbation. Morphologically, it corresponds to a conurbation, while functionally it is becoming more and more a suburb of Luxembourg. The history of the steel industry is a strong common denominator of the three national parts of the conurbation, whose center of gravity, once occupied by blast furnaces, is now empty.

The innovative practices in the methodology (process) for drawing up the cross-border conurbation project 19 are :

Two points of further development (perspectives) are identified for this cross-border metropolis project 20 :

L. Reitz points out that, in the cross-border context, it is the citizen who has the power to change things, unlike in other cases where it is the elected representative21.

The Saarbrücken-Moselle East cross-border conurbation

The Saarland conurbation constitutes a genuine cross-border living area. On the strength of several operations carried out within the framework of Interreg, and benefiting on both sides of the border from a strong inter-municipality, more concrete cross-border projects should emerge, carried out within the framework of the project management of a single authority.

Five realities of the territorial dynamics and the situation of Saarbrücken-Moselle East 22 contribute to the project.

It is a question of « moving from a de facto cross-border conurbation, undergoing rapid change but still undergoing conversion and rehabilitation, to a cross-border conurbation of projects energized by intercultural innovation and by extensive internal cooperation ».

To achieve this, these five realities must be experienced simultaneously in order to set the territory in motion collectively towards a cross-border conurbation of projects :

The trinational conurbation of Basel-St. Louis-Weil-am-Rhein

The trinational conurbation of Basel-St. Louis-Weil-am-Rhein is developing its cross-border cooperation through an associative structure for technical and political consultation, the Trinational Conurbation of Basel, and a project for the development of a cross-border facility, the Three Borders Technoport, which is managed by a French development association. Other, more thematic actions are carried out within the framework of Interreg.

The Franco-Vaud-Geneva conurbation

The Franco-Vaud-Geneva conurbation is one of the most integrated urban cross-border sites from a geographical point of view (urban morphology and multiple cross-border flows). From an institutional point of view, it is characterized by a large number of organizations. Their mutual neutralization has slowed down the progress of cooperation for some time. Current urban cross-border cooperation has its roots in the Franco-Geneva Regional Committee, created in 1974, one year after the Franco-Geneva Joint Consultative Commission, to manage cross-border neighbourhood problems. The CRFG has wanted to become more involved in local cooperation since 1992 by moving from the management of neighborhood issues to a cross-border conurbation project, hence the publication of a White Paper identifying the challenges to be met for this area and proposing a series of concrete measures.

From 1993 to 1995, a cross-border charter was drawn up, based on 10 specific projects, but with very little involvement of the municipalities concerned. This charter, which is accompanied by a development plan for the Valdo-Franco-Geneva area, recommends the construction of numerous infrastructures, particularly in the field of transport (CEVA cross-border light rail system between Annemasse and CERN, etc.), and has led, among other things, to the launch of a phase for the creation of economic development clusters and the setting up of a cross-border statistical observatory. Two projects have recently entered the pre-operational phase: the creation of a cross-border economic development cluster around Geneva international airport (Rectangle d’Or project), and a mixed-use business cluster on the railway wasteland of the Annemasse station (Etoile Annemasse/Genève project) 23.

S. Lin reminds us of the cross-border specificity of this conurbation 24} :

If the city is cross-border like the others, its center is in one country and the periphery in another, leading to center-periphery problems that are coupled with difficulties characteristic of a relationship between two countries. The situation of Geneva, a Swiss city outside the European Union, in contrast to its French periphery, reinforces this local specificity.

The innovative practice of drawing up the cross-border conurbation project is not to have added up the specific features of each territory but to have worked straight away on themes that are applied to joint actions. One beneficial methodological aspect has been the constant back and forth between the strategic development phases and the implementation of actions on the ground. This constant link between a global policy and the implementation of concrete actions seems fundamental to refining the approach of a cross-border conurbation project.

It is also a question of inventing institutions (informal cooperation bodies, inter-state cooperation agreements, local cross-border cooperation groupings, cross-border management structures, SEMs, etc.) and of building Europe from below.

The next stage should enable the conurbation to establish an institutional platform that involves the competent authorities to a greater extent on a contractual basis, with an expansion into new areas (economy, training, harmonization of housing policies).

Summary of the problems of cross-border conurbations26

The experiences presented lead us to reflect on a number of concepts: the border, the territory and the conurbation in a cross-border context.

Cross-border means border. As a symbol of the construction of a national identity, the border is both a political, economic, sociological and cultural reality that cannot be ignored, and a psychological dimension that is deeply embedded in people’s minds. The cross-border approach, within the framework of territorial development, does not aim to make the border disappear, but to approach it as a resource and not as a handicap. Thanks to cross-border cooperation, the cross-border territory can then become a positive place, a support for projects associating people, know-how, dynamics and means. However, this approach must take into account the diversity covered by the very notion of border.

We can distinguish :

In both cases, it is possible to develop specific projects and more broadly cross-border territories. The second case, however, will require a stronger political will to forge a common future between partners from two or three countries in the same territory.

A cross-border territory is a defined project area. It therefore assumes a strong will to give itself a common destiny.

The cross-border territory is thus born of a strong political will to promote local development and cross-border cooperation ; but it cannot be conceived without being part of a specific geographical, socio-economic and cultural space.

It can be the site of one or more specific projects, or of a single project with a more global vocation. We then speak of a territory project. Most often, the implementation starts with one-off actions, the exemplary nature of the results and the habits of working together then allowing for a broader and more transversal approach.

When it supports multiple projects, a cross-border territory may have different perimeters depending on the issues addressed.

A cross-border conurbation is defined less by a strictly morphological concept (cross-border urban ensemble crossed by a border) than by a more or less wide range of cross-border urban functions, coupled with a common political project on a defined territory.

These cross-border conurbations also reflect the contemporary economic dynamics at work, resulting from a certain « border effect »: differences in legislation, labor costs, real estate, etc., which stimulate economic growth and enable companies and the population to take advantage of these differences.

A small typology of cross-border conurbations on the borders of France and neighboring countries

Strict cross-border conurbations : they constitute a group of dense and continuous urbanization, in most cases polycentric with a hierarchy of centers (a main center and secondary centers). These cross-border conurbations are the most integrated form of local cooperation.

Cross-border urban networks : these are much more linear cross-border urban spaces where urban continuity is not complete (numerous rural buffer spaces). They are more like an urban network with an urbanization that is often coastal in filament form. However, in some cases, the reality of flows or the cross-border political project is no less strong.

Emergence of cross-border conurbations

Local urban cross-border cooperation has developed at very different rates depending on the border and the region. It is often difficult to pinpoint its precise origin, since it has its roots in institutional cooperation through a large number of projects, most of which have been urban in nature. Accelerated thanks to the Interreg program about ten years ago, it is becoming more individualized and gradually more autonomous to become a specific component of cross-border cooperation at regional level. More or less complex depending on the size and functions of the conurbations, according to the agreements, treaties, cultural traditions, and the language community, it takes a particular form for practically each of the conurbations concerned. It is therefore very difficult to deduce a model that is uniformly applicable everywhere. This is all the more true since we are still at the beginning of a cooperation that is gradually taking shape by adapting to very different spatial and legal configurations.

Issues and problems specific to cross-border conurbations

When we go into the details of the problems that are the subject of cooperation, all the issues that make up a « national » conurbation can be addressed in a cross-border conurbation project: transport, health, waste, planning… However, other questions relating to cross-border management are also raised: cross-border urban citizenship, methods of financing actions, local taxation problems, intercultural management of such a conurbation, local development…

The issues that characterize these cross-border conurbations are multiple: social, economic, political, spatial and cultural. They are considerable in terms of the development potential they underlie.

The articulation of the different levels of planning between each country is essential to the success of a cross-border conurbation project26.

Economic issues

Cross-border conurbations are territories with high potential for economic development. The challenge is to make the border a resource and no longer a handicap. It is also a question of achieving economies of scale by focusing on complementarity and avoiding the construction of the same facilities on both sides of the border.

Political issues

These conurbations are real laboratories for European construction, because they are both places where national policies converge and the crucible of European citizenship. On a European scale, the cooperation that is taking place in these areas today represents the expression of a form of European economic, social and cultural integration, while at the same time strengthening the possibilities for local authorities to act across borders to create and manage services of general interest together. Encouraging the establishment of co-decision or management structures at the level of the cross-border urban territory, through community initiatives and the development of national legislation and laws, is one of the major challenges for their development.

Provisional conclusion

Numerous problems disrupt the daily life of the populations and hinder the actors of cross-border projects and elected representatives in their desire to create urban coherence and a « community of destiny » with their neighbors on a common territory.

A number of pitfalls have been mentioned: real estate and land pressure, degradation of border peri-urban landscapes, increasing saturation of road infrastructures, additional costs of not having a cross-border conurbation (separate management of services), incompatibilities between administrative and legal systems, articulation of scales of cooperation, the problem of financing cross-border cooperation…

However, it is clear that the experiments under way in cross-border conurbations are making progress despite the various national institutional constraints. It also appears that these conurbations are taking advantage of the dynamics of cooperation as well as the dynamics of competition between neighboring territories, sometimes adopting attitudes of competitive cooperation, sometimes of cooperative competition, depending on the interplay of reciprocal interests.

3. Walloon agglomeration policy

Ideas for new strategies

The third workshop focused on Walloon agglomeration policy. The objective was, through the eyes of the French and Swiss participants, to highlight the particularities but also the shortcomings of the supra-municipal cooperation process in Walloon cities. This workshop ended with a debate with three representatives of the Walloon political world interested in the work of the platform28.

Beyond an assessment of the current situation noting the deficiencies 29, a series of reasons justify the establishment in Wallonia of supra-municipal associations in urban agglomerations :

The Union des Villes et Communes de Wallonie 30, a pressure group representing local authorities, is calling for the adoption by the Region of a decree that would organize the procedures for communities of agglomerations and communities of communes through flexible collaborations, on a conventional basis, with a view to carrying out well-defined projects. Among the reservations raised by this demand, there is the concern not to make the already complex institutional landscape in Belgium more cumbersome, the fear of duplication (among others with the intermunicipal management and development companies), the lack of transparency and balanced representation of the municipalities. It should be remembered that in Wallonia there is no legal framework authorizing the creation of institutionally recognized communities31.

L. Maréchal32 emphasizes that the idea of supra-municipal cooperation emerged at the request of the driving forces during the public consultation on the regional development plan (SDER). It has resulted in the definition of cooperation areas, supra-municipal areas that are both urban and rural, and eurocorridors. It inevitably raises the problem of externalities between poles and within urban poles. Functional and political approaches clash: in Wallonia, the agglomeration dynamic is more a matter of political will based on values than on a relational approach based on people’s experience.

The interventions lead us to question the different positions in presence.

The option of a flexible agglomeration structure, without a strict and imperative legal framework covering the whole of Wallonia, opens up a parliamentary debate that is fraught with risks: what assurance can we have that local particularities will not prevail over the general interest, not only in the institutional aspects but above all in the financial issues (fiscal equalization)? Can we solve the problems of externalities project by project?

The question of project-based supra-municipality entails a reformatting of provincial institutions (whose influence is to be limited) and of inter-municipal « management » companies (whose size is to be reduced by half). But on what democratic basis would the « project » community be established, with what degree of constraint? The proposed political option of a second-level election of the representatives of the agglomeration community is preferred, because the option of direct election would not offer the guarantee of avoiding communal « egotism ».

The Walloon debate seems to lead to a questioning of the communal institution itself. How can it be legitimized today in an institutional structure? Is it a given, intangible, untouchable fact? Two models of the State seem to be opposed: a representation based on a State referred to the communal territory and a model of a translocal, relational, fluid society.

Through the questions raised by the emergence of the agglomeration territory - the relevant scale, the endogenous resources that can be mobilized, participatory or representative democracy, the quest for identity - we discover the strategies of social groups seeking to take advantage of a collective project, of which the (non-)solidarity of the city-center and the « middle-class » municipalities on the periphery is one aspect.

Finally, the risk of institutional overreaction in Wallonia following the many recent reforms encourages caution and the need to allow time for experimentation.

Provisional conclusion

In the absence of a stated desire to promote cooperation between local authorities, it is unlikely that Wallonia will adopt a legal framework establishing communities of agglomerations or communities of communes in the short term.

The government intends to evaluate the current experiments and will consider at a later date the place that should be given to them in the institutional architecture of the Walloon Region.

It is therefore time for experimentation in order to demonstrate the effectiveness and necessity of cooperation between local authorities and the Region. However, the principles of such cooperation are recalled in regional policy documents: subsidiarity (a principle which implies that tasks in the public interest should be allocated to the most appropriate level and, in the event of equivalence, to the local authority), connectedness (a principle which guarantees that local authorities will be allocated sufficient resources in line with the allocation of new tasks), objectivity and responsibility.

It is to be hoped that this « institutional tinkering » will lead to new dynamics and voluntary solidarity within the agglomeration territories.

4. Themes for the 2005 platform

At the end of the second edition of the platform, we realize that there is a real difficulty linked to the vocabulary (project, agglomeration, development, sustainable, urban…) and to the metadiscourse (governance, solidarity…). It was suggested that a lexicon of the terms used prior to the seminars should be drawn up, but not everyone agreed with this idea. It is difficult to structure the debate. There is a tendency to transform intellectual constructs ("agglomeration project") into substantial objects: we should « do » the project to develop the agglomeration. However, a project creates inequality and dualization at the same time as it produces identity. It is necessary to reflect on the epistemological scope of the ambient discourses, on the ideological postulates of the positions taken, on the shifting processes rooted in the territories and in time.

It was proposed that the next platform be organized in Toulouse in March 2005. In view of the work of the 2004 platform, we can propose the following themes that would structure the continuation of the discussions :

Among the improvements to be made to the seminar, it was suggested that the field visit be an integral part of the program, that there be fewer case presentations and that the participants be present for all the work.

The number of case studies could be reduced. The place of the local debate on Wallonia could have been reduced to free up time for discussion. The analysis grids proposed in the preparatory note could be used more as reading keys and as reference points for the questioning. It is necessary that the group be able to appropriate and work on the proposed diagrams.

The CIRUS team is in charge of preparing the third edition of the platform, which will take place on 17, 18 and 19 March 2004. It was suggested that research teams working on these issues be associated with the seminar. L. Boulianne proposed to invite Quebec partners that he will meet soon.

Some personal views formulated at the end of the second platform on agglomerations (Namur March 18-20, 2004)

By Rémi Dormois, 22 March 2004

1) Where does innovation fit in with agglomeration projects?

  • It is a shared observation that agglomeration project approaches mark a renewal of the modes of conducting urban public action in the sense of a more important place given to incrementalism, to « step by step », to the procedural…

  • What still appears to be under debate, however, is the degree of openness of urban projects:

  • The degree of openness of agglomeration projects to themes such as social solidarity and sustainable development in relation to the classic subjects (economic development, transport) is not yet a general rule. Few of the initiatives presented, for example, made explicit reference to the development of the territory’s endogenous resources. The agglomeration projects are still dominated in their development by issues of economic positioning (inter-city competition, urban attractiveness and supply). In the case of the Louvière project, refugees are taken into account, as well as a reflection on the evolution of household overindebtedness. Similarly, in the Geneva project, the question of the development of health and training services has been included. On the other hand, in the other cases presented, there is no significant break with what is traditionally done and which is proving unsatisfactory in terms of linking economic, social, political and environmental concerns.

  • The frameworks for understanding the relationships between the sub-entities of a conurbation are also largely unchanged. Thus the center/periphery model is still very prevalent in the way the problem of urban sprawl is approached.

2) The question of the construction of a capacity for collective action on the scale of conurbations.

  • The Belgian case highlights how the construction of a capacity for government on the scale of a conurbation can be envisaged differently than in terms of the creation of a political institution with extended powers and its own tax system. Belgian municipalities are grouped together in the form of associations, known as « inter-municipal associations », which may have sectoral objectives (transport, waste treatment, etc.) or more transversal objectives. In this system of inter-communal cooperation areas, the same municipality may belong to two associations at the same time. In the case of Geneva, a comparable reflection is underway with the project to set up a club of communities bringing together the two Swiss cantons and the French intermunicipalities.

  • Some practitioners have distanced themselves from this position of « soft » institutionalization by clearly expressing the need to set up real urban government institutions, particularly in cross-border areas. Expectations have been expressed in this sense to the European Commission so that a law is defined at this decision-making level. For the defenders of this position, territorial governance corresponds to a mode of public action that is « unproductive » because it does not allow clear-cut decisions to be taken and because it does not provide clarity on responsibilities.

  • Reflection on the need for a capacity for collective action frequently appears to be a necessity imposed by the outside (in this case, inter-city competition or contractualization with regional and central levels) rather than by a local will. Is it surprising, then, that the agglomeration project is frequently presented by the participants as a technocratic object with no real « citizen » support?

  • The formation of a collective action seems to be conditional on the establishment of win/win games. This is how the canton of Geneva hopes to mobilize the French intercommunalities for the implementation of an agglomeration project by renewing the retrocession of financing deducted from the salaries of border workers to the French border municipalities, but making it conditional on a right of supervision over the use of this financial windfall.

  • An interesting debate focused on the question of the factors explaining the non-emergence of a capacity for collective action.

Many of them put the elected officials in the hot seat by denouncing their inability to go beyond their logic of defending territorial political interests (often a communal logic). In the case of Liège, a hypothesis was put forward in terms of the « co-sanguinity » of the local political and technical elites, which would explain the poor renewal of the frameworks of thought.

Other speakers distanced themselves from this initial analysis by considering that the difficulty in structuring agglomeration political governments could also be due to pressure from social groups (in particular the middle classes settling in the peripheral areas, which would support initiatives to structure defensive intercommunities/central cities).

Other speakers considered that a context of crisis in the local economy could be a favorable situation for the structuring of this government capacity. This last point was noted in the case of the Luxembourg/France/Belgium cross-border conurbation, where the crisis in the steel industry did not give rise to a strong dynamic for local action and where the issue of reindustrialization was never revisited (it was imposed even though changes in employment pointed to the need to develop services).

The actors may also have an interest in not cooperating insofar as institutional fragmentation is the cause of economic advantages. The economic development of several cross-border conurbations is thus based on the existence of differentials in local tax rates, contrasting compensation schemes between countries, and even territorial sharing whereby, in return for financial compensation, part of the territory receives harmful facilities (this seems to be the case, for example, in St. Louis on the issue of waste treatment in the Basel conurbation).

3) Does the construction of conurbations lead to a blurring of borders?

Two elements qualify the representation of intermunicipal cooperation that would result in the erasure of borders between municipalities, or even between states in the case of a cross-border conurbation.

Institutional borders are constraints (problems of competence, etc.) but they are also crucibles. It has already been said, but the economic dynamism of cross-border areas is very frequently based on the border effect in terms of differences in the fiscal framework or the legal framework for labor law.

Several presentations highlighted the fact that institutional integration could result in the revival of borders within the new conurbation. For example, there is a clear reappearance of divisions between social groups (this is the case, for example, in the French communes of Geneva between « classic » residents and « cross-border » residents, who have higher income levels and a different relationship to the local territory)

1 Boulianne L., Rey M. (2003), Plateforme internationale d’échanges dans le domaine des agglomérations urbaines. Synthèse des échanges, CEAT, EPFL, Lausanne, 16 p.

[#(note( 2] Presentation by P. Olivier, alderman of the City of La Louvière, document 1 of the platform proceedings.

3 Presentation by L. Boulianne, document 2 of the platform proceedings.

4 Sources : documents distributed by the various speakers + MOT notebooks (3), Cross-border conurbations, August 2003.

5 Absence of the interlocutor, P. Bintein, Intercommunale IEG, document 3 of the platform’s proceedings.

6 L.-F. Reitz, Intercommunale IDELUX, document 4 of the platform proceedings .

7 Ph. Vaillant, Etablissement public foncier de Lorraine, document 5 of the platform proceedings .

8 F. Duvinage, Basle trinational agglomeration, document 6 of the platform proceedings .

9 S. Lin, Direction de l’aménagement cantonal de Genève, document 7 of the platform proceedings .

10 G. Vautrin, CUCES-Universities, document 8 of the platform proceedings.

11 Les cahiers de la MOT (3), Les agglomérations transfrontalières, August 2003.

12 Ibid.

13 According to Jef Van Staeyen, Director of COPIT in Les Cahiers de la MOT (3), Les agglomérations transfrontalières, August 2003.

14 Ibid.

15 Proposal for a strategy for a cross-border metropolis (Synthesis)

16 Op. Cit.

17 Les cahiers de la MOT (3), Les agglomérations transfrontalières, August 2003.

18 According to Louis-François Reitz, Director of AGAPE in Les cahiers de la MOT (3), Les agglomérations transfrontalières, August 2003.

19 Ibid.

20 Ibid.

21 Presentation by L.-F. Reitz, Second International Platform on Urban Agglomerations, Namur, March 19, 2004.

22 Note distributed by Ph. Vaillant, Second international platform on urban agglomerations, Namur, March 19, 2004.

23 Les cahiers de la MOT (3), Les agglomérations transfrontalières, August 2003.

24 According to Sophie Lin, Head of the Master Plan Service at the Direction de l’Aménagement, de l’Equipement et du Logement of the Canton of Geneva in Les cahiers de la MOT (3), Les agglomérations transfrontalières, August 2003 + presentation and notes by S. Lin, Deuxième plateforme internationale sur les agglomérations urbaines, Namur, 19 March 2004.

25 Ibid.

26 Ibid.

27 Ibid.

28 Ibid.

29 Ibid.

30 Ibid.

31 Ibid.

32 Ibid.