Conversational Cuts on research about the german metropolitan regional governance

Conversational Cuts on research about the german metropolitan regional governance

Jingxian Tang, 27 June, 2018

As a researcher from East Asia, I – in addition to my friends in the academic field of planning, have long been curious about the relatively balanced polycentric spatial structure of Germany. The equalization of life and environmental quality is a fascinating inspiration for the generally economically and socially polarized Asian cities. With a strong motivation to better understand the comprehensive characteristic of the German system (not specifically limited to the planning system) that encourages a balance between qualities of life and environment, I left Tsinghua for one year and started a solo academic exploration at the TU Dortmund. I will share the insights I have collected since last November, which also serve as a “Thought Adventure” for a young Chinese scholar in the Cooperative-Federal world.

Given the current remarkable regional policy updates in China, it did not take long for me to turn my focus to German metropolitan regional governance. After 7 months of documentation collection, regional organization survey, more than a dozen interviews on practical regional projects, and repeated framework adjustments, I think my grounded perspective could definitely reveal some systematical features in addition to existing drawbacks of governance in Germany.

My research question is based on the perspective of cross-national comparison. Thousand miles away in China, the common impression about German regional governance is articulated in literature with keywords such as “Negotiation ” and “Network”. From this point, I wonder, however:

(1) What is the comprehensive institutional foundation for “Negotiation ” and “Network”?

(2)How is the“Network” organized?

(3)Under the Federal system, is there local variation? If yes, then what are the factors for the variation?


Via an analysis framework that consists of two main perspectives, namely Space-boundaryand Institution, I have drawn some interim conclusions from the empirical studies:

Behind the surficial feature of “networks” and “negotiation”, the German regional governance institutional system has a multi-layer foundation much like an iceberg with interlocking setting under the ground. Institutional elements include basic laws, public law contracts, and organizations. The first (Rechtsstaat) together with the unwritten local autonomy and cooperative federalism functions as the fundamental stone. Based on public law and contracts, informal association provides the low-threshold platform for regional initiatives. The formal associations, in comparison, could be regarded as a result of the initial negotiation and are also the main operating body of regional single- or multi- collaborations; they promote stable innovation and optimization of the inter- and intra- the regional agents through “self-learning” and “inter-learning” from the practices of regional governance. In sum, informal and formal associations with different mandatory levels, further cooperate with each other to form an asymmetric network or polycentric structure.

Most of the German cases are the overlay of single- or multi- functional territories. Scales of different regional functions are not consistent with each other in different regions, e.g., education, regional transportation, regional marketing. Boundary delineation of regional governance reflects that, based on cooperative federalism and local autonomy, factors including differentiated regional issue, governance tradition, cultural region awareness, and geographical landscape, together shape the “governance space”. German metropolitan regions are considered as multi-approaches experiments, the adaptation measure of which varies from each other. Only when the upper-level institutional guarantee coincides with the lower-level willingness, the boundary is considered to be a perfect overlap of function and jurisdiction. In another word, mandatory regional policies can easily turn out to be failure and waste administrative resource. The difference between practical governance boundary and policy-suggested boundary also shows the gap between spatial policy “marketing” and marketing effectiveness.

To understand the territorial embeddedness of practical experience is the first step for transnational grafting, reflection and also localized innovation, which is meanwhile the rooted place of planning culture.. Taking a step back, after immersion in the German society and further reflecting on China, I find it even more difficult to make arbitrary conclusions on the classical topic of regional governance. Responses to whether polycentricism is good or not, or to what extent democracy is effective, all it depend on how negative effects are controlled and how advantages of the approach are strengthened. Moreover, behind all of this is historical path-dependency and reality for further governance reform.