Making it happen building a capacity to act

At the end of Chapter 3, we pointed out the benefits of an integrated node-place perspective, in which process and context variables were adequately accounted for. Further on, in Chapter 4, we emphasized the importance of an analysis in which the object variables formed the point of departure. An integrated perspective on the interaction between node and place variables offers a good starting point. Such a perspective puts the participating actors and their relationships in a prominent analytical position. In this way, the building blocks of the earlier sections (factors fuelling development as well as the dilemmas connected to it) can be elaborated in an effort to gain deeper insight into the factors for success.

Railway station redevelopment processes are the work of a multifarious array of both node-and place-based actors. The local government and the national railway company are two principal ones, as most explicitly seen in Stockholm, Basel, and King's Cross. These actors might form an alliance, as they did in the first two cases, or may be antagonists instead as in the third. Depending on the local context, other actors will play a decisive role too. These include different levels of public administration, different transport companies, and—most significantly—market actors such as developers, investors, and users. In Euralille, a coalition was formed across local, regional and national government levels and with investors. In Zentrum Zürich Nord, a municipality-landowner partnership has been the driving force. In Utrecht, the relationship between the municipality, the railways, the building owners and the users has been crucial, and a similar construction is emerging in Amsterdam. Furthermore, local residents and businesses may also be crucial, particularly at station locations set in dense, historically stratified urban districts. Among the cases analysed, this occurred in Utrecht, Basel, King's Cross, and Zürich, with less (Utrecht, Basel, King's Cross until recently) or more (Zürich, possibly King's Cross now) constructive outcomes.

The objectives of this heterogeneous array of actors are often conflicting and at best uncoordinated. This was the case in Euralille initially and in Utrecht, Amsterdam, and King's Cross for a long while. Contrasts may even exist within the strategy of one and the same actor. This is typical for railway companies torn between transport and property goals, and for local governments uneasily trying to balance social, environmental, and economic objectives. The first phase of King's Cross epitomizes the former problem, while the Utrecht Centrum Project is a good example of the latter.

The fragmentation of both goals and means at stations epitomizes a key feature of the present urban system. The urban system is characterized by 'diverse and extensive patterns of interdependence', where 'the paradigmatic form of power is that which enables certain interests to blend their capacities to achieve common purposes' (Stoker, 1995, pp. 270-272). Following the lead of regime theorists, we could call it the ability to build a capacity to act. This is the capacity, from whatever side it comes, to mobilize and involve in the process a plurality of public, private and community actors, spanning both the transport and the land-use domains. Whatever the external and internal divisions, a high degree of active consensus appears indispensable for the implementation of station area projects. A catalyst role has possibly been the most important function of, for instance, the local government in Lille, or of the coalition between railway and municipality in Stockholm. The absence or insufficiency of such a catalyst has been the cause of great difficulties in King's Cross and Utrecht.

National institutional contexts and local political traditions play a leading role in facilitating or obstructing the effort to build up this capacity to act. However, the role must not be understood so much in a formal way—that is, through the national planning system—but through the actors and interests involved. Most important in this respect is that, through the persons of the actors involved, links are often made between positions in the national planning system. This can be done either through a person's formal role (such as a mayor, for example) or informally through contacts established in a present or earlier position. The case studies present ample evidence of the variety of possibilities on this point. The most prominent is visible in the case of Lille, where Pierre Mauroy (mayor for more than 20 years, former prime minister, senator, president of the Communauté Urbaine and president of the Société d'Economie Mixte Euralille) played a mobilizing and binding role.

The institutional context shapes the conditions within which redevelopment processes take place. Consequently, the institutional context functions both as a factor, fuelling redevelopment processes (section 10.1), and as a condition, influencing development during the process. For instance, in the redevelopment process in King's Cross, changes in the process can be traced down towards changes in the contextual conditions. From a property-led development it changed towards a more transport-led development, not only because of changes in insight, but also under the pressure of a shift in the property market context. This is an important observation. As railway station area redevelopment takes a long period of time (by definition), it is (also by definition) vulnerable to changes in its context. In order to narrow down the broad concept of context, the case studies show that changes in the economic context dominate. Property development and transport—together representing the central building blocks for redevelopment—are highly influenced by economic developments. Other context developments are government policies, such as retrenchment measures and transport investment. Awareness of the risks can be translated into the redevelopment process. For instance, in trying to speed up the process the risks can be reduced. But also, introducing explicit stages in the redevelopment process contributes to the reduction of risks from context developments.

In both the transport function and the real estate function, developments in the institutional context can generate converging and diverging processes between the potential of railway station areas, anywhere in Europe.

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