Government or Governance? The Challenge of Planning for Sustainability in the Ruhr
Government or Governance? The Challenge of Planning for Sustainability in the Ruhr
Sustainable development has a distinct spatial dimension. Decisions about the locations of workplaces, housing, retail, and leisure facilities have a significant impact on the achievement of sustainability goals. In recent times, under the influence of neo-liberal economic theories, more and more decision powers have been transferred to private actors and, in the interest of public participation, from higher to lower levels of government. The traditional model whereby government sets the framework for private decisions has been replaced by a flexible system of communication and adjustment between public and private actors called governance. From the point of view of sustainable spatial development, the trend from government to governance must be put into question. In a situation in which long-term ecological challenges, such as climate change and energy scarcity, are likely to exceed the current problem solving capacity of democratic decision structures, that capacity needs to be strengthened rather than further weakened. One way to achieve this is to make sure that decisions are made at the appropriate level of government at which not particular interests but the common welfare are pursued. This is not always the municipal level. The conclusion is that sustainable spatial development requires the reinforcement of democratic decision making at higher levels of government than the local level. This is demonstrated in the paper using the recent planning experience in the Ruhr agglomeration in Germany as an example.
This chapter takes up the distinction of this book between two ways of spatial planning: by legal regulation or by agreements between public and private actors (see also the Introduction by Hartmann and Needham); and it complements this distinction in two dimensions: power and spatial level.
In terms of power it distinguishes between the traditional model of government in which elected bodies set the framework for private decisions and governance as a flexible system of communication and agreements between public and private actors. Both models of planning work with laws and property rights, but they differ in the way these are generated and applied. It is argued that under the influence of neo-liberal economic theories, more and more decision powers have been transferred to private actors.
In terms of spatial level, it distinguishes between top-down and bottom-up approaches to planning and notes a trend of delegating more and more responsibilities to local levels in the interest of public participation. It is argued that this decentralization of decisions is in contrast to the extension of problem spaces through globalization, European integration and modern transport technologies.
It is the main hypothesis of this chapter that these two trends in planning, from public to private actors and from higher to lower spatial levels, are in conflict with new challenges for spatial planning.
There are numerous new challenges for spatial planning. Global warming, receding ozone layers, maritime pollution, destruction of tropical rain forests, decreasing variety of species and depletion of fossil fuels and other non-renewable resources are only a few keywords characterizing the ecological consequences of our growth-oriented way of life. For a number of years now, attempts are being made to find solutions to these problems using the principle of sustainable development.
Of the new challenges, the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions to mitigate global warming is the most recent and most demanding. The Kyoto Protocol of the United Nations of 1997 defined targets for the reduction of greenhouse gases. According to this Protocol, world-wide greenhouse gas emissions are to be reduced by 5.2 per cent until 2012 compared with the level of 1990. For the affluent countries of Europe this implies an average reduction by eight per cent, whereas no reduction targets were given for developing countries.
Under the impression of growing certainty of the threats of climate change, the heads of state of the European Union in March 2007 signed a declaration that by 2020 their countries achieve 20 per cent less energy consumption, 20 per cent renewable energy, and 20 per cent fewer greenhouse gas emissions compared to 1990 (and 30 per cent if other developed countries cooperate). At the G8 Summit in L’Aquila in July 2009 the political leaders agreed that the rich countries must reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by 80 per cent until 2050. Despite these commitments, the United Nations Climate Conference in Copenhagen in December 2009 turned out to be a sad demonstration of the ‘tragedy of the commons’, the over-use of free common resources (Hardin 1968).
In Germany already in 1990 a commission of the Federal Parliament had demanded that the industrialized countries reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by 80 per cent until 2050 in order to allow the developing countries to advance their economies (Deutsche Bundestag 1990). In August 2008 Chancellor Merkel announced that Germany will reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 40 per cent until 2020. In its strategy for sustainable development of 2002, the Federal Government set the target to reduce the allocation of land for buildings and transport from 130 hectares per day to 30 hectares (Deutsche Bundesregierung 2002).
If these ambitious targets are to be achieved, spatial planning will have to make its contribution.
Sustainable development has a distinct spatial dimension. The utilization of space by humans for production, reproduction, consumption and leisure determines the consumption of material and energy, the locations of land uses and the pressure on the natural environment. The spatial distribution of land uses determines the spatial division of labour and hence the degree of spatial interaction and in that way energy consumption and environmental impacts of transport.
Decisions about the locations of workplaces, housing, retail and leisure facilities and the spatial interactions between them have a significant impact on the achievement of sustainability goals. These decisions are largely made by private actors (firms and households), but to a substantial part also by public actors, from local governments to the European Union.
At the same time, all spatial processes have undergone a historically unique enlargement in scale. Because of increasing affluence and technological advances in transport technology, cities have expanded more and more into their hinterlands, with the consequence of ever longer commuting and shopping trips. Labour market regions and catchment areas of central facilities have grown to a multiple of those in pre-industrial times. Disappearing trade barriers and low transport costs have multiplied the share of goods shipped from far-away countries. With growing interconnectedness of cities and regions, problem space and decision space increasingly separate.
Despite this, in recent times, under the influence of neo-liberal economic theories, more and more decision powers have been transferred to private actors and, in the interest of public participation, from higher to lower levels of government. The traditional model of government setting the framework for private decisions has been replaced by a flexible system of communication and adjustment between public and private actors called governance.
From the point of view of sustainable spatial development, the trend from government to governance must be put into question.
History of Spatial Planning in Germany
To understand this, a short review of the history of spatial planning in Germany may be useful (Wegener 1999; 2008).
The development of spatial planning in Germany reflects the history of the Federal Republic. After World War II, cities were rebuilt almost without planning. During the Cold War, the term planning was stigmatized as an expression of authoritarian government control. Only under the influence of the reform policy of the US presidents Kennedy and Johnson was this taboo abandoned. In the 1960s, under a social-liberal government coalition, societal planning became accepted for policy making also in Germany.
At the same time, the critique of the poor quality of cities rebuilt without planning increased (Mitscherlich 1965). It became obvious that to create high-quality residential and workplace environments, more comprehensive knowledge was needed than was taught at architectural and civil engineering schools. Following British and US examples, interdisciplinary planning schools were established at the universities of Berlin, Dortmund and Kaiserslautern. Under the influence of the then current paradigms of political economy and systems theory, comprehensive visions of the ideal spatial organization of society were developed. Particularly influential was the transfer of systems theory to social theory by the sociologist Luhmann. According to Luhmann, society is an open cybernetic system which survives against its environment by the selection of appropriate action. The reduction of complexity by stabilizing the difference between itself and its environment is the raison-d’être of a social system by which it distinguishes itself from biological systems (Luhmann 1966). Planning, and also spatial planning, as a means to reduce complexity, is therefore a kind of system rationality by which a social system maintains its existence (Wegener 1999).