RELOCAL is a research project funded under the Horizon 2020 programme, ‘Resituating the Local in Cohesion and Territorial Development’. It is a 4 years project involving 13 partners, coordinated by the university of eastern Finland and covering 12 countries, mainly in the Northern and Eastern parts of the EU. Its budget amounts to €4.9 million.
The project examines place-based strategies in Europe from the perspective of spatial justice. As a possible response to an increasing need for developing European Union Cohesion Policy in terms of greater sensitivity towards territorials specificities, more supportive of community-based development and facilitation of greater civic participation, place-based strategies need to be critically studied.
The basic assumption is that the ‘local’ dimension plays an important role in promoting spatial justice and wellbeing in Europe. RELOCAL is building evidence from 30 case studies of local contexts (cities and their surrounding areas) that exemplify sustainable development challenges in terms of spatial justice.
As a first step of the research project, at the end of 2017, RELOCAL published its first work package aiming at:
- developing a theoretical framework for the project through a critical review of the concept and models of territorial cohesion, spatial justice and solidarity;
- providing a critical review of the concepts of spatiality, spatial justice, territorial cohesion, sustainable development and solidarity;
- providing a critical examination of the links and tension between these concepts and the concepts and models of regionalism and localism in Europe.
Starting with territorial cohesion, it is clearly reminded that it is an “EU policy concept” encapsulating as many definitions as there are national/regional strategies and priorities. The volatility of the concept can be seen as an advantage as it can evolve through time and manage more easily any tensions, allowing “political buy-in”. Contrarily to territorial cohesion, spatial justice is a theoretically derived concept according to the authors. Without entering the debates on justice itself, the authors adopted 2 possible paradigms to conceptualise spatial justice: a distributional or a relational paradigm. Mixing the two approaches would lead to a comprehensive analysis of the territory and its dynamics – the distributional paradigm calling for a quantitative spatial analysis and the relational paradigm calling more for case studies. Coming to the sustainable development – a partly political, partly theoretical concept – the Brundtland definition is adding the notions of inter-generational and intra-generational justice. Here, the RELOCAL interest is in finding out if both can be achieved together, if one has to necessarily be sacrificed or if they are stemming from the same processes or not. As a partly political concept, sustainable development also has the “fuzzy” characteristic of adapting to situations and times. Linking those three concepts together the authors propose to conceive the relationship “in terms of relational processes underlying the inter-generational and intra-generational spatial injustice and their coupled relationship to development, growth and competitiveness (…), and acknowledging the diverse conceptions of social justice (and solidarity)”.
Regarding regionalism and localism (2 processes of decentralisation of power), the main challenges are twofold: how to locally address the issue of social exclusion, and how such a territorial scale can “deal with regional inequalities”. It is noted that currently the model of territorial cohesion is a balance between the subsidiarity principle and inter-regional transfers, the implications of an imbalance in favour of locality are yet to be determined.
RELOCAL affirmed their choice of a spatial justice lens during their research despite the pregnant economic field observed in order to determine if place-based strategies can realise spatial justice (and solidarity) at the European level. The RELOCAL hypothesis is that place-based strategies can positively contribute to spatial justice.
The conceptual framework is then detailing the two key concepts of locality and spatial justice underlying in their hypothesis. Spatial justice referring to equity in social space includes 5 dimensions of justice according to the authors: social, procedural, distributive, spatial and temporal. While locality as a “nexus of a range of forces that contributes to spatial (in)justice” will be openly and critically analysed in all of four dimensions: differential, vertical, horizontal and transversal.
In conclusion, the framework clearly spells out RELOCAL’s ambition to “examine the capacity of place-based approaches to deliver spatial justice (…) within as well as across places and times”. Thanks to the clarification of concepts and their relations with other notions such as growth (economic crisis), solidarity, democratic empowerment, the research project shall hopefully come up with a brighter landscape for understanding what ‘local’ means in a context of redefinition of European policy and goals.
(See also RELOCAL Conference)
17 April 2018