Alexandre Dubois (Dpt of Urban and Rural dvt, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Uppsala, Sweden)

Iryna Kristensen (Dpt of Economics, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Uppsala, Sweden)

Jukka Teräs (Nordregio, Stockholm, Sweden)

Regional disparities have always been a topic that has sparked considerable debate. In one of his most recent efforts, Andrés Rodríguez-Pose[1] addressed the timely issue of what he called the ‘revenge’ of ‘places that don’t matter’. Rightly so, he identified that increasing territorial inequalities are at the root of this wave of discontent that has come to epitomize the political, social and economic debates over the need for more balanced territorial development in the future.

One key issue we have in common with Rodriguez-Pose’s idea is that, in fact, these places never lost their significance!

What has actually changed is the perspective on these places from academic and policy circles alike that tend to consider them essentially as historical traces of the post-war industrial legacy rather than fertile grounds for promoting and sustaining future territorial development.

If the root of the ‘revenge’ we are witnessing is likely to come from increased territorial inequalities, it is not, as suggested by many, originating from a glowing divide between capital regions and the wider country. Indeed, with decades of empirical observations through good and bad times, we now know that there is no such thing as a spill-over effect that would diffuse prosperity from core urban regions to peripheries. If the gap tends to widen, the divide is not new in the national territorial narrative as it has been part of the historical territorial development of each country. So what has changed?

The form of territorial polarisation that impact the most people’s living space is the one that has taken place in the last decade within regions, counties or provinces throughout Europe. This polarisation creates much more extreme forms of inequality easily observed in local populations ranging from small-to-medium-sized urban centres and their surroundings. This applies to job opportunities, access to basic services and social marginalisation of certain vulnerable groups (e.g. elderly and youth).

Rodriguez-Pose was right in advocating that addressing these issues will require place-sensitive policy initiatives. At best, this acknowledgement is a tribute to the pioneering work of European spatial planning and regional innovation scholars that have argued for this for at least a decade. The real issue is how to design and implement such place-sensitive approaches within a mostly unchanged institutional framework? And for those seemingly successful initiatives, what new evidence do they provide us that can inform and feed into the future of cohesion policy for ‘these places’?

Figure 1. A house in the village of Åskilje in the northerly county of Västerbotten (Sweden). In the last few years, the village has witnessed an influx of residents coming from Wales bringing new life to the local residential and tourism economy.

Our publication does not attempt to provide definite answers to these enduring questions. In a more functional way it offers a ‘smorgasbord’ of possible approaches across the large diversity of institutional, socio-economic and geographical contexts in Europe’s alter-metropolitan places. The book seeks to detect novel practices among the territorial stakeholders with entrepreneurial knowledge and more robust theoretical underpinnings that support future policy approaches for regional development in post-metropolitan territories.

The book, Strategic Approaches to Regional Development, provides a track record of  ‘smart’ experimentations in different regions in Europe, initiatives that seek to work with rather than against their inherent characteristics, creating new knowledge about what may work (or not) in different territorial contexts. More importantly, it is necessary to rethink the place of ‘places that don’t matter’ in the territorial future of Europe.

[1] Rodríguez-Pose, A. (2018). The revenge of the places that don’t matter (and what to do about it). Cambridge Journal of Regions, Economy and Society11(1), 189-209.

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