Polycentricism seems to be the dominant pattern in metropolitan regions such as the Randstad in the Netherlands or the Rhine-Ruhr area in Germany. Compared to monocentric metropolitan regions such as the Greater Munich area or Hamburg, polycentric regions seem to have a disadvantage in attracting a high-skilled workforce because these regions (and the cities in these regions) lack transparency and a clear profile.
Nevertheless, polycentric regions seek to compete with the monocentric regions in Europe. In some polycentric metropolitan areas, several medium-sized cities adopt a cooperative strategy to balance this disadvantage and join forces. However, cities in metropolitan areas often cooperate and compete at the same time and this constitutes a problem for collaborative strategies.
Therefore, unlike monocentric city regions, (e.g. Munich, Paris or London) where a dominant, centrally-based alpha-metropolis is in a position to set the agenda, polycentric regions face greater challenges in creating a regional governance system, making them latently unstable and difficult to manage. This seems to confirm the well-known saying: “Good fences make good neighbors!”
On the other hand, polycentric metropolitan regions may have something to offer. The absence of a dominant core city results in a more balanced settlement structure with wide green spaces, a variety of options for leisure activities, and places to live. In more theoretical terms, this can be described as functional differentiation that may result in synergies for metropolitan development. Still, metropolitan regions not only provide a visibility-bonus for the smaller municipalities, but are also assumed to offer advantages regarding the cost-benefit ratios of agglomeration effects. The critical point to acknowledge is to what extent the region is able to organize its resources in a complementary way in order to ensure emergent effects. But can the virtues of polycentric metropolitan areas be realized? Does summing up small cities really make a metropolis?
The Rhine-Ruhr Region is an exemplary case to address these questions. It is one of the largest agglomerations in Europe, but displays a polycentric character without a clear dominant center and envelops many interior borders that divide the different cities. Political-administrative fragmentation hampers better coordination of planning and transport policies. The region is divided between the more prosperous south-west (Düsseldorf, Cologne) and the Ruhr area in the north-east that continues to struggle with the legacy of mining and steel production.
Another typical feature of this agglomeration is the great number of internal borders that separate settlement areas. These areas are further segregated by various land uses: industrial properties, areas used for storage and logistics, corridors and lines for energy supply and one of the regional green belts crossing the Ruhr agglomeration (what Christa Reicher calls “Ruhrbanism”).
A unique quality of the Ruhr region is the co-location of settlement areas, green spaces, rivers and waterways. Green spaces extend into the urban landscape everywhere within the region so that it is always possible to easily reach a nearby open park or woodland.
All throughout the region you can find meadows and forests, fields and gardens, which are used by the residents and noticeably shape the urban landscape. Including these urban greenspaces with the substantial number of public parks helps to illustrate the vast proportion of open space within the Ruhr region. In fact, many scholars consider the Ruhr region as a laboratory for the transformation of metropolitan areas.
The Rhine-Ruhr Module was hosted by the Faculty of Spatial Planning at the Technical University of Dortmund. Lecturers from academia and private and public organizations as well as practitioners discussed the challenges and solutions relating to the governance of polycentric metropolitan areas. Issues to be adressed include: institutional design of metropolitan governance, democratic quality of metropolitan governance, green infrastructure, mobility and transport and energy laboratories.
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