Planning for Sustainable Metropolitan Future in Europe

The SPIMA project addresses the need to deal with the challenges of metropolitan development in Europe. It aims to gain better understanding of the complex relations between city centres, suburbia and larger peripheries. SPIMA stands for Spatial Dynamics and Strategic planning in metropolitan areas.

The project is part of the European territorial Observatory Netowrk (ESPON) comprehensive European programme on territorial governance implemented by the Directorate General Regional Policy. The project contributes ot the European policy framework Urban Agenda, promoting sustainable regional development in the core urban areas, sub-urban areas and peripheries. The project brings important policy implications for development of European Metropolitan agenda.

SPIMA builds upon the experiences of ten stakeholder cities in Europe: Vienna, Prague, Brno, Zurich, Brussels, Oslo, Akershus, Turin, Terrassa, Lille and Lyon. They all have one thing in common: whether transport, environment or social disparity issues are at stake, the key concern is in finding a ‘problem owner’ who can address these issues at an appropriate spatial and administrative scale.

Challenges in metropolitan areas

“A key concern expressed in the European Urban Agenda, is the response of traditional urban planning practices to the current urbanization trends,” says project leader Vanya Simeonova from Wageningen Environmental Research. “Current trends tend to go beyond the core-centric spatial patterns and beyond the jurisdictions of a single administrative authority. Metropolitan areas are characterized by close economic and social linkages between their urban and suburban parts that involve a number of local governments. There is very seldom a local authority that has the competency to address all challenges in a metropolitan area on its own. Currently, urban policies and governance practices, seem to lag behind in addressing these complex challenges.”

Policy recommendations and tools

The SPIMA project explored a range of urban development issues raised by metropolitan areas across Europe and how these issues are addressed within their current institutional frameworks and the local authorities. However, the project has developed policy recommendations and tools to support the relevant authorities in addressing key challenges and in achieving a coherent metropolitan spatial planning approach. By means of a comparative research across the cities, the project has developed policy recommendations and tools to support the relevant authorities in addressing key challenges and in achieving a coherent metropolitan spatial planning approach.

Coordinated spatial planning

SPIMA designed a metropolitan planning approach based on eight action areas to be taken by the regional and local authorities. The approach aims at achieving synergy and complementarity between sectoral policy issues (e.g. transport, housing, public services, the environment, urban sprawl etc.) across municipalities and regional authorities. One of the key recommendations is that the complex territorial governance processes between the national (federal) state, the regional (sub-regional) and local authorities need coordinated spatial planning across these governmental scales in order to address metropolitan development challenges. In many of the cities these challenges are not yet addressed in spatial planning processes, including new opportunities for sustainable urban growth.

Shared-governance process

Vanya Simeonova: “In many cases national governments play a role in setting a spatial planning policy or legislation, but are not directly involved in actual development of spatial plans at regional or local level. Ongoing decentralization of planning competences in most of the areas requires strengthening the administrative capacity and the planning practices of local governments in managing multifaceted territorial developments at metropolitan scale. Effective metropolitan planning depends on a shared-governance process that is flexible and dynamic, and is at the same time clearly linked to the administrative levels of statutory spatial planning.”

The project results were presented to a wide range of stakeholders from Europe, including cities, the European Commission, academia etc., during its final event in Brussels, begin February.