Dagens økonomiske krise i EU har store konsekvenser for Europas byer og regioner, og krisen forsterker tendensen til at den post-industrielle økonomien lokaliserer seg til et fåtall storbyregioner. Dette forteller tyske Klaus R. Kunzmann. Han er en av Europas fremste byplanleggere og byforskere og er professor ved Fakultät Raumplanung ved Technische Universität i Dortmund. I forbindelse med at Kunzmann er invitert av Norsk Bolig- og Byplanforening til å holde foredrag på Norsk Planmøte som arrangeres i Bergen nå i høst, har PLAN snakket med professoren – om krisens regionale virkninger, om kreative byer og om kreative plan- og styringssystemer.


The economic crisis in the European Union, with large public debt and declining budgets in several member countries and a growing rate of unemployment, is dominating the news headlines these days.

First, I would like to ask you to elaborate on the phenomena of the present crisis. So far Norway, which is not a member of the EU, have escaped the most severe impacts of the crisis. And therefore, we are perhaps not able to fully grasp its scale or its consequences.

For me, the present economic and financial crisis is the consequence of neo-liberal policies triggered off by Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher to cut back the public sector and break the power of the trade unions. The gradual departure from the European welfare state model has been actively promoted and defended ever since by the international financial sector.

I assume that the crisis has considerable regional and territorial effects. So what are the implications for cities and regions in Europe? And, which parts of Europe are in crisis?

Countries, which could not or did not react to the challenges of globalisation and the competition from emerging countries in Asia, are the main losers of the economic crisis.

The economic crisis has considerable implications for cities and regions all over Europe. Firstly, less innovative firms had to reduce their labour force at locations which were less competitive. Qualified labour is migrating to other locations and the tax base is gradually eroding. Secondly, the public sector in cities and regions which are suffering from growing budget constraints, is forced to reduce its staff. Local unemployment and reduced public services are the consequence. Cities have to cancel investments in new infrastructure, in flagship projects and in services which are not imposed on local and regional governments by law.

The economic crisis is reinforcing global trends of changing location factors and spatial concentration. Traditional production-oriented industries of the «old» economy had been established at locations where mineral resources were available and access to transport infrastructure was given. The «new» post-industrial economy in turn is rather evolving and flourishing in a few metropolitan city regions, where a better educated labour force prefers to live and work and enjoy the broad spectrum of cultural events and leisure opportunities.

Klaus R. Kunzmann

Can you tell us what kind of regions, which cities have come under stress? Are there others regions and cities, which remain untouched by the crisis or even have benefited from it?

It is known that Germany, thanks to an innovative and globally successful industry and a sound tax base, has survived the crisis quite well, while countries in Southern Europe have suffered and still suffer considerably from a less competitive economy and eroding taxes.

As a rule, attractive metropolitan city regions seem to be better equipped to cope with the economic crisis than old industrial regions and regions without significant profiles. There is also some evidence that regions in the periphery of Europe are less affected by the crisis. Their local and regional economy is primarily based on agriculture, forestry and fishery, and not on speculative property development or on financial services.

What do you think are the primary causes for the crisis?

Economists have many, often quite controversial explanations or the causes of the crisis. My personal understanding is that the crisis is a consequence of the deregulation of the banking system, the evolution of an international financial sector beyond and above the influence and control of national governments. And besides, the inability of some countries in Southern Europe to balance tax income with public expenditure and rely too much, such as Spain, on the economic benefits of a speculative housing market.

Will the crisis strengthen the European Union, or is the dream of «the United States of Europe» further away than before?

Single European countries cannot tackle the economic crisis. That is why, in the long run, the cohesion of Europe will gain, even if national voices are frequently heard saying that the solidarity within the European Union has come to an end. The future Europe, however, will remain a Europe of nations and regions; it will not become a «United States of Europe», like the United States of America. Nevertheless the economic competition with Asia and North America will force Europe to speak with one voice and overcome national interests. The European manufacturers of high-speed trains, for example, must cooperate closer if they want to remain competitive with state supported Chinese producers. The European defence industries have already made a first step in such a direction.

What should Europe do to overcome the crisis? And what lessons can we learn from it?

I am not competent to give an answer as to how to control the financial system. As a planner, but fully aware that planners have not much to say in our societies, I would build upon the assets of Europe, its traditions, its regional cultures, its languages, its food, its richness of diverse landscapes and city-scapes. I would not surrender to global or Anglo-American culture which is dominating the media, higher education and creative economies, but rather strengthen the cultural identity of cities and regions in Europe within a strong, though less bureaucratic European Union.

What effects can the rise of China as a global economic power have on Europe’s future?

Europe has become more and more dependent on the Chinese market, on China’s economic development and on the hunger of the Chinese middle class society for European luxury goods – be it cars, fashion, leatherwear and perfumes or even kitchen equipment. Without Chinese imports from Europe, the crisis would have even been worse.

European industries with innovative technologies and strong export links to China, have survived the crisis much better. The desire of the Chinese middle class to buy German cars has helped Germany, where one out of six jobs directly and indirectly relies on the automobile industry, to maintain its economic strength. A strong Europe, as a counter power to the US, is in the interest of China (and Asia as a whole)

In one of your publications you refer to Europe as «China’s special economic zone». Is this a likely scenario?

Obviously, this scenario is provocative. However, it refers to the growing dependency of Europe on Chinese investments in Europe. Already, quite a number of European corporations depend on the Chinese market. Chinese investors show more and more interest in European investments and want to buy-up European technologies and firms. And Europe is already tourist target number one for the Chinese middle class. The fact that Chinese students constitute the largest group of foreign students in Europe (in Germany alone already 30,000) can be taken as a sign that the «old» continent is very much in the focus of attention of Chinese politicians and investors.

You have published extensively on the future of the European city, often with reference to terms like «Creative Cities», «Knowledge Cities» and «Creative Economy». But what is the specific meaning of these concepts? What really is a «Creative City»?

The terms are often used as slogans for successful urban marketing rather than for strategic local policies. In a nutshell, a creative city is a city where innovative knowledge industries are firmly embedded, where cultural traditions, cultural infrastructure and cultural, creative industries and rich creative milieus are generating a new urban economy. In a creative city the local government shows much creativity in dealing with the challenges of urban development and in maintaining and improving the quality of life for all citizens, not just for affluent cosmopolitans or the Bohemians.

Is it possible for all of us to be «creative» and «knowledgeable»? Will there not always be a need for more basic economic activities and more ordinary or mundane occupations?

There is often a misunderstanding about creativity and knowledge. Every single person is knowledgeable and creative, whether he or she is a craftsman, a service person or has graduated from a university.

«As a planner (...) I would build upon the assets of Europe, its traditions, its regional cultures, its languages, its food, its richness of diverse landscapes and cityscapes». Plenty of old world charm fills the narrow cobble stone streets of Heidelberg’s Old Town, which was the center for Germany’s romantic period. The ruins of the once grand Heidelberg castle, the oldest university in the country, and the idyllic river valley of Neckar make Heidelberg one of the most picturesque destinations in Germany. Photo: Wikimedia

It is a rather narrow-minded belief that only a university education is a guarantee for creativity. A violin-maker, who has learnt his craft on the job, or a good chef in a countryside restaurant are usually more creative than graduates from international business or law schools. Again, I want to refer to Germany with its long tradition of vocational training. The number of university graduates per thousand inhabitants is lower than in many other developed countries, but the economic potential in Germany is still very high, as has been shown by the present crisis. This illustrates that a successful, innovative, creative, knowledge economy does not just depend on statistics of higher education. If we send all the children of farmers to universities, we will have nothing to eat, unless they return after graduation to the farm. And urbanites frustrated by the stress in the big cities might experience that they can have a more creative life in the countryside.

What about the future of the numerous small or middle-sized cities beyond the major metropolitan regions of Europe? What role will they have in our economy say fifty years from now?

Europe is a continent where the majority of the population lives in small and medium-sized cities, not in mega cities, where social polarisation is continuously growing. And as a rule they enjoy a high quality of life in these cities, guaranteed by public policies with a commitment to maintain infrastructure and public services. This will not change, unless the neo-liberal champions of the free market should be able to further weaken the successful social welfare system in Europe, particularly in the Nordic countries.

Small and middle-sized cities, within or near metropolitan regions, will remain the favourite living spaces for Europeans, and even large cities in Europe try to strengthen the local identity of urban districts to create local milieus where citizens can combine local quality of life with a more diversified labour market, co-operate in the local civil society and enjoy using local-global linkages.

In your writings, you also advocate what you call «Creative Governance». If I understand you right, this refers to a situation where local and regional institutions, public as well as private, cooperate and complement each other. Could you give some examples, preferable from Germany, of how such local or regional partnerships can develop and implement future-oriented initiatives?

A very good example for intraregional co-operation in Germany is the metropolitan city region of Nürnberg, where the core city (Nürnberg) is closely co-operating with other local governments in the city region (such as Erlangen, Fürth, Coburg or Bamberg), and where the local governments, private industries (e.g. Siemens, Adidas), regional universities and groupings of the civil society are collaborating to develop joint strategies of how to remain locally rooted and globally linked. A similar case is the city region of Mannheim/Ludwigshafen and Heidelberg, were three core cities and a number of counties and smaller governments work together with public and private interests in maintaining global competitiveness and local liveability.

I would assume that many constraints hinder such «Creative Governance». Which are the most difficult to overcome, in your opinion?

To fully answer this question would require a long discourse. But very briefly, in my opinion three factors are responsible for non-creative action in a city: Firstly, the rationales and mechanisms of party politics to remain in power or to win the majority; Secondly, I think locally read media should encourage local politicians and stakeholders to be creative beyond mainstream recipes for urban development, rather than just covering local agendas and celebrating local celebrities; Thirdly, the educational system must avoid replaceing art, music and other creative education by supposedly future-oriented subjects. Creativity to cope with future challenges is the future, and the students have to be prepared and conditioned for this future.

The EU has adopted common goals and policies on a broad range of fields – sustainable development, economic and social cohesion, agriculture, energy, just to name a few. But when it comes to urban and regional planning, there seem to be few common instruments and little co-ordination of policies between the member states. The same can be said about the political-administrative structures in the Union, both on a national and a sub-national level. France for instance, has 36.000 communes, while Sweden has 290 kommuner within a comparable geographical area. Is this lack of a common European planning regime or more uniform administrative structures an obstacle to further development and integration within the Union? Or is the variety perhaps a strength and something that enriches the EU?

I am a strong advocate of regionalism and the diversity of cultures, traditions and local and regional landscapes and terroirs. Conditions in Norway and Hungary differ as much as those in Greece and the Netherlands. Assigning the respons-ability for urban and regional planning and administrative reform to the European Commission and setting up a legal framework for urban and regional planning, would be a disaster for the identity of Europe. It would lead to a blown-up European regulatory system, which would be following the rationales of the market and the financial system rather than that of the people living and working and enjoying life in their local environments. Urban and regional planning is for people, not for promoting the real estate sector and supporting investors.

The European Commission, together with the European Parliament and the Council of Europe (to include Norway and Switzerland) could just formulate a set of human principles for local live-ability in cities and regions in times of globalization and free market rationales. That would be sufficient. In addition, European policies, for instance regarding competitive conditions, agricultural, educational or energy policies should be examined as to whether they promote or rather obstruct the human development of local and regional space.

The «mismatch» between functional space or functional regions on the one hand, and the administrative and political boundaries on the other, seems to be a common problem in many European countries, Norway included. It makes cooperation and joint planning across administrative boundaries within larger city-regions difficult. In some cases the functional regions extend across international borders, which makes it even harder to cooperate on a regional basis. Have you any suggestions as to how this problem might be solved?

Yes, regional management in city regions is a challenge which all European city regions are facing. International competition in times of globalisation forces city regions to sharpen their international image and strengthen their economic profiles. Such efforts, however, require a better functional division of labour and intraregional cooperation under better guidance of national governments. And it requires a process-oriented development of regional strategies to build up trust among all stakeholders in the region. This in turn requires intensive and transparent communication and it requires political leadership beyond the power-tactics between political parties. The regional media could contribute to such communication processes by informing their readers about best practice stories in other regions and countries.

A few cross-border regions on the continent have been able to establish interregional collaboration across national boundaries, such as the city regions of Saarbrücken/Metz (Germany and France), Basel/Mul-house/Freiburg (Switzerland, France and Germany) and Lille/Roubaix/Kortrjik (France and Belgium).

After the German reunification in 1989, efforts were made to merge the city of reunited Berlin with the state of Brandenburg, Berlin’s hinterland, which fully surrounds the capital city. But rather surprisingly, the popular vote was negative to a merger. Has this decision in any way influenced the management of the urban fringe of Berlin? And how does the city of Berlin to day cooperate with its neighbouring local governments?

The negative vote of the people of Brandenburg to merge with Berlin was not so surprising. The people in the predominantly rural countryside did not really see the advantage of a merger with the dominant and occasionally arrogant capital city, burdened by considerable public debt. It seems that nobody explained to them the advantages of a stronger Federal state. Understandingly they did not want to be the backwater of a city which was exporting its undesired functions to the hinterland.

This negative vote, however, did not change much. To my knowledge, the spatial management of the urban fringe of Berlin would not be much different if the merger of the two states had been carried out. After the reunification in 1989 Berlin for a short period experienced considerable suburbanization. However, in 1999 the trend came to a halt. The more affluent households and the creative class returned to attractive locations in the inner city of Berlin. This trend reflects the growing number of single person households in Berlin (and other large German cities such as München, Düsseldorf or Hamburg). In 2006, 53 % of all households in Berlin were single person households.

Since the negative referendum, the efforts to increase the efficiency of public functions and institutions (police, law etc.) went on, based on piecemeal arrangements without much public opposition. It is very likely that in 20 years time or so, the people in Brandenburg will postulate the merger, as most public services have been united anyway. The fact that the Social Democrats govern both Berlin and Brandenburg facilitates political communication and intraregional negotiations on strategic regional development in the larger city region. The construction of the new international airport in Berlin is but one example.

On the basis of the experiences from Berlin and other German city-regions; what advice would you give to the authorities in our capital city of Oslo and the surrounding county of Akershus? The city and county have been fully integrated with each other since the end of WW2 – by daily commuting, a common housing market, shopping, etc. But in spite of their innumerable common interests, they have not managed to establish any joint planning efforts for land use, housing or transportation. That is, not until now, and then only by a decree from our national government.

I do not have sufficient knowledge about Norway or the Greater Oslo city region to give any advice, and I cannot tell why Norwegian planners, politicians and leaders of the civil society have not been sucessful in convincing the authorities of Oslo and the surrounding county to coordinate their activities in strategic regional planning and to develop a joint vision for the future of the city region. I can only assume that the established tax system, ideological differences, and the lack of regional leadership hinder approaches to strengthen regional cooperation. From my German experience I know that obsolete models of physical master planning and outdated perceptions of establishing powerful and overstaffed regional administrations in-between the local and the national governments, dominate the mindsets of local and regional authorities. I could imagine that the creation of a slim strategic agency for a larger city region, covering more (than just 2) administrative provinces (fylker) of the larger Oslo region, may be a way out. This, however, may just be the uninformed view of an outsider.