2023 Regional Studies Association Annual Conference Special Sessions
Stanko Pelc, University of Primorska, Slovenia
The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated global social and economic inequality levels, induced economic recession and exacerbated political uncertainties which altogether have destabilised the predictability and perceived improvements in human welfare which characterised the last three decades. These processes have forced many communities, places and regions into more pronounced situations of marginalisation – economically, socially, politically and geographically as well as environmentally. A reality now widely associated with the term ‘left behind places’. In this session we will explore evidence of growing marginalisation and its causes as well as debate solutions – drawing on emerging evidence of regional and local response and national and international support where it exists. Papers which explore issues such as the nature and causes of marginalisation, the role of place-based leadership, social capital and the realities of the causes and implications of ‘left behind places’. We conceptualise left behind places as emerging from developmental disruptions and are particularly prevalent in border and cross border regions. In this regards papers which focus on cross border cooperation projects – aiming to foster the cooperation, involve local communities and (re)building regional identities as drivers of regional development), endogenous development and related issues are particularly welcomed. More generally, papers can focus on global, regional or local issues or on multi-scalar issues.
The morning part of the session was chaired by Etienne Nel, University of Otago, New Zealand.
Andy Pike, Newcastle University, presented a paper titled: Whither ‘Equity Planning’ in the UK?
Alternative approaches to local ‘development’ for ‘left behind places’ have received growing attention in the UK following the 2008 crash. Yet, this burgeoning field has become complex, fragmented, and confusing for academic analysts, commentators, policymakers, and practitioners. Those navigating the emergent ideas and experiments have to confront its conceptual and theoretical heterogeneity and plurality, underdeveloped geographical dimensions, and limited evaluation. A further issue is the curious neglect in the UK of a particular alternative originating in the US in the 1960s and being renewed there since the 2008 crisis: ‘equity planning’. Yet, ‘equity planning’ shares much in common with alternatives currently being explored in the UK. It appears to offer much to learn from conceptually and practically with its emphasis on distributional concerns and prioritisation of enhancing the power and resources of the most disadvantaged, ‘under-served’, and ‘under-invested’ people and places. Explaining the persistence of sticky, place-situated knowledges in a world of ‘policy mobilities’ and ‘trading zones’, this paper aims to situate ‘equity planning’ in the urban US in the 1960s and explain why it has not travelled to the UK. It then seeks to learn from experiences in the US and articulate what ‘equity planning’ could mean in the search for alternative models of local ‘development’ for ‘left behind places’ in the UK.
Danny MacKinnon, CURDS, Newcastle University, presented a paper titled: Spatial Policy Approaches since the 2008 Financial Crisis
Renewed political concern about geographical inequalities in the wake of the global financial crisis of 2008 is raising questions about the ability of the prevalent pre-crisis model of development based on economic growth and competitiveness to generate spatially balanced and inclusive economic growth. While alternatives approaches are debated across disciplinary fields, the implications for spatial policy are not yet clear. The existing macro-scale periodisation of spatial planning and governance in terms of a shift from spatial Keynesianism to neoliberal growth-oriented policies appears increasingly incomplete. This paper assess post-2008 spatial policy in relation to the interaction of three key processes: the legacy of neoliberalism, associated with policies of metropolitanisation focused on large city-regions; the rise of state capitalism, which implies an increased role for the state in spatial policy; and, a new territorial politics based on increased political polarisation between cities and rural and formerly industrial areas. The paper addresses the question of whether the interaction of these three processes is reshaping spatial policy in more interventionist and redistributionist directions, focusing largely on the UK, France and Germany. It argues that while a new policy discourse of ‘left behind places, ‘levelling up’ and territorial cohesion points to an expanded role for the state, this represents a partial and contradictory trend rather than a more fundamental rethinking of spatial policy. It often involves the extension of existing policy frameworks to smaller cities, towns and rural areas, alongside continued support for larger cities.
Stanko Pelc, University of Primorska, presented a paper titled: Rethinking Geographical Marginality
Geographical marginality has been a recognisable topic of geographical research for several decades. However, only a few authors tried to define it and none of those definitions are precise enough to enable more objective observation of the phenomena and the process that creates it. In my presentation I intend to give a brief insight into the existing definitions and their limitations as well as to propose what could be the possible way to define geographical marginality more precisely, what could be the possible indicators of marginality and what are the main processes that are causing marginality.
The afternoonn part of the session was chaired by Stanko Pelc, University of Primorska, Slovenia
Gabriel Renault, Université Grenoble Alpes, presented a paper titled: Dealing with the Missing Geography of the Foundational Economy. Local Jobs Distribution and Evolution in France and Great Britain in the Late 2000s
The foundational economy (FE) stands as a novel approach to reframe regional development. Part of the debate relates to its capacity to offer a stable economic basis for structurally weak regions and cities, referred to as “left-behind places”. However, chronological quantitative studies remain scarce, especially at infra-regional scales. Whether FE can act as a development lever for different types of places is still unclear. This paper proposes an inter-temporal study of foundational and non-foundational job evolution in travel-to-work areas (TTWAs) in France (2008-2019) and Great Britain (2015-2019). The analysis breaks down the FE into six economic sectors, enabling a better understanding of their geographical distribution and evolution over time. It establishes comparisons of job evolution across TTWAs demographic sizes. Preliminary findings demonstrate that the sole term of FE encompasses a kaleidoscopic reality: its sectoral composition varies greatly, either at national or local scale. In the last few years, FE sectors have expanded in many of the smallest French TTWAs, even though the rest of the economy was retrenching. But the growth of FE is not confined to the smallest places. More than half of the foundational jobs were created in the few-largest TTWAs. In Great Britain, the situation is distinct still. Ongoing data analysis shows that the demographic size may be less decisive while the geographical dimension may be of some relevance. By combining demographic and geographic insights, the paper examines FE capacity to build a level playing field in two economies displaying otherwise contrasted regional imbalance.
Etienne Nel, University of Otago & University of Johannesburg, presented a paper titled: Countering Marginalisation in ‘Left Behind Places’ in Rural New Zealand: The Opportunities and Challenges Presented by International Migration
New Zealand's rural areas and small towns have experienced significant demographic and economic transitions in recent decades, with some areas booming while others have struggled and have been marginalised economically. In the case of the latter, steady out-migration, economic change and population aging since the 1980s has catalysed the 'zombie town' discourse in the country and the effective creation of ‘left behind places’. The reality of employment vacancies, cheaper housing and lifestyle options has, however, led to a situation in which opportunities exist, often for new migrants to the country or for recent migrants wishing to move from the cities. These processes have been assisted by changes in immigration policies since the 1990s, which in turn has led to cosmopolitanism in selected rural areas and small towns. While these new migrants potentially contribute to the restoration of regional economic and cultural vibrancy, help counter marginalisation and address the ‘left behind’ nature of these areas, there are also significant settlement challenges which immigrants from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds face. They often tend to seek support from their own community networks and cultural groups. This presentation explores the development challenges faced by the rural areas and small towns of the Otago and Southland regions in recent decades, the reasons why new comers are moving to these areas, their settlement experience, the challenges which they face and the degree to which either official or community and NGO groups are providing the settlement support which new migrants require. Looking into the different approaches these areas and towns adopt to support immigrants helps theorise previously underexplored immigrant infrastructures outside of the larger urban centres.
Sanne Velthuis, University of Newcastle, presented a paper titled: Who Moves from and to ‘Left Behind’ Regions in the UK, France and Germany?
In recent decades many countries in the Global North have been characterised by persistent and sometimes increasing regional inequalities. Migration flows both respond to, and shape, uneven levels of development across regions. For instance, the loss of skilled labour through out-migration can have negative consequences for regional economic growth , while the in-migration of older residents can add to existing pressure on local public services. Who moves out of, and into, a region therefore matters for its future economic and social development, as recognised by the European Commission in its work on understanding and responding to demographic change. In this research we aim to understand how the demographic composition of economically ‘left behind’ regions is affected by regional residential mobility, through examining inter-regional migration flows in the UK, France and Germany. Specifically, we explore how the population structures of economically marginalised regions are shaped by the characteristics of those who stay, those who leave, and those who move into these regions. The answers to these questions are an important part of understanding the impacts of inter-regional migration on ‘left behind places’ and thinking through regional and local responses.