Members of the Thematic Group Regional Design will soon launch a call for papers elaborating regional design. The more detailed scope of contributions is described below. Papers will be published in a special issue of the journal Planning Practice and Research. The selection procedure will involve an online-round table to be held around the original date of the 2020 annual AESOP conference in July 2020. We will soon provide you with more information. Please watch this webpage + the news on the AESOP website for this!


REGIONAL DESIGN: a transformative approach to planning

Guest editors

  • Valeria Lingua, University of Florence
  • Verena Elisabeth Balz, Delft University of Technology
  • Agnes Förster, RWTH Aachen University
  • Cristina Cavaco, Universidade de Lisboa

Call for papers

Spatial planning approaches have changed over the last decade. Major shifts in the institutional architecture of planning schemes has occurred: plan­led planning approaches – characterized by fixed administrative boundaries, statutory frameworks, and paternalistic forms of government -  have turned into development-led approaches, in which soft planning follows and facilitates development proposals by market actors and the civil society at large. Dilemmas that are triggered by an accumulation of competing spatial claims – often due to highly urgent climate mitigation and adaptation measures – and a coupling of structural social, economic and political change have resulted in a greater appreciation of adaptive spatial planning approaches. Such approaches involve knowledge about particular areas, place-based community-led initiatives, tailored temporary governance arrangements and more transformative perceptions of natural, metabolistic and evolutionary spatial change. In a context of uncertainty, contentiousness and complexity, they aim at unlocking greater and timelier societal responses to problems in the built environment while maintaining robust, long-term planning rationales at the same time.

Observations of the emerging softer, more adaptive or flexible modes of spatial planning indicate that they give a more important role to spatial visioning and spatial design. The changes described above seem to have inspired more iterative and reflexive planning processes that are characterized by normative and persuasive agenda-setting approaches, often involving a variety of knowledge repertoires and many actors. Spatial analysis, the imagination of spatial metaphors and the 'art' of making spatial representations have emerged as respected tools in capacity and consensus building in the deliberative, interactive multi-actor settings that flexible planning modes imply. In various countries, design-led approaches became more intimately related to regional spatial planning. Regional design - as an explorative search for spatial solutions to problems at high levels of scale, emerged as a distinctive discipline that contributes to uncovering the mechanisms of regional spatial development, mediating the divisions and conflicting rationales that are caused by mismatches between spatial ranges and administrative boundaries, and encouraging local action while also supporting the coordination of such action across multiple and multi-scalar territories.  Also, last but not least, it enhances the legitimacy and accountability of planning, linking the very different types of societal and civil actions that occur at different scales. However, while expectations of the performance of design-led approaches rise, their role in planning remains under-defined and the evaluation of their performance lacks empirical evidence.

The proposed special issue intends to gather contributions that critically discuss the impact that regional design has on regional governance and spatial planning at the regional and metropolitan level. Editors of the issue will in particular appreciate investigations of design-led approaches in a context of ‘soft’, ‘adaptive’ or ‘flexible’ spatial planning.  Such investigations elaborate how design-led approaches challenge spatial planning policies and practices that are anchored in rigid administrative boundaries, and on how spatial visioning and design contribute to defining and redefining territorial entities and actor networks. The main aim of the special issue is a more sophisticated understanding of the performance of regional design in the realm of emerging modes of regional spatial planning and of the processes that support their institutionalization. We invite proposals that take-up this broad intellectual and practical challenge while also considering more than one of the more detailed points below:

  • Regional spatial planning in a context of social, economic, political and societal change: (re-) conceptualisations of regional spatial planning with particular attention to theoretical notions of ‘soft’, ‘adaptive’ and ‘flexible’ modes of planning; the relation with contemporary dynamics of social, economic, political and societal change.
  • Roles of spatial design and visioning in regional spatial planning: theoretically founded and/or empirically observed relations between design-led approaches and regional spatial planning, with particular attention to the position of design in planning procedures, governance and actor constellations, and/or wider spatial and institutional settings. Considerations emphasize on design thinking as an approach to the resolution of wicked problems that occur in complex spatial settings and territories while acknowledging disparities in e.g. the distribution of spatial resources or power.
  • Performance of spatial design and visioning in regional spatial planning: evidence of the impact of design-led approaches on regional spatial planning, expressed in for instance new allocations of resources, actor constellations, frames of reference, and/or fields of action; with particular attention to the role of spatial design in mediating between statutory and soft planning modes and frameworks, processes of governance rescaling and new territorial arrangements.
  • Tools and instruments in design-led approaches to regional spatial planning: new tools and instruments in regional spatial analysis, for instance concerning use of (big) data, and real-time modelling; elaboration of visualisation and communication techniques in design-led approaches; ways to involve spatial design and visioning in regional spatial planning processes such as design studios, international exhibitions, and design competitions.
  • Teaching regional spatial planning and design: elaborations of transdisciplinary educational formats that involve learning about design and regional spatial planning.
  • Regional spatial planning and design in the context of the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic: as the recent coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 pandemic spreads across cities, regions and countries, it highlights the very misalignment between political-administrative jurisdictions and the real geographies of spatial development patterns. The fall-out of the pandemic seems to support localism on the one hand; it raises questions about the necessity for commuting, or the reliance of regional economies on global supply-chains for instance. Fall-out illustrates a need for coordination across administrations on the other hand. Emerging mechanisms in the distribution of health equipment or economic support render the costs of non-coordination on a daily basis. The team of editors recognizes that a deep and thorough analysis of recent development is barely achievable within the time frame set for the special issue. It however welcomes contributions that use evidence triggered by the crisis to reflect on the roles of spatial planning, regional design and visioning in an alignment between jurisdictions and geographies.