Boom in local heroics

May 12, 1995

For those surfeited with VE Day, neutral Sweden was ideal last weekend. Most Swedes were more concerned by the national ice hockey team's failure in the World Championship final. But there is no escaping some things. Hitler and Churchill may have been out of the picture, but research assessment was very much in it as the Regional Studies Association met in Gothenberg - evident not only in the conversation of British participants but on a publishers' stand advertising two journals to be launched in early 1996 and two more going from two to three issues a year.

Research assessment may also be a factor in high conference attendances but the RSA had more than this and an attractive location to thank for packed sessions. Like its semi-allied trade, geography, regional studies has a lot happening - not least the paradox noted by Kevin Morgan of Cardiff University: "The resurgence of regional economies at a time when the forces of globalisation appear to have reduced the world to a placeless mass."

Analysis of key concepts such as sustainability, subsidiarity and spatial planning are complicated, as Klaus Kurzmann of Dortmund noted in a drily incisive plenary paper, by the different meanings these terms have in different countries: "To the British subsidiarity means being European, but doing their own thing. To Europeans it is a little different."

Similar problems apply to the concept of a Europe of the regions, but this increasingly fashionable idea came under withering fire from Jorge Gaspar of the University of Lisbon and Chris Jensen-Butler of Aarhus University, Denmark, who argued that far from aiding the European Union's declared aim of social cohesion, a stronger role for regions could easily help perpetuate and widen inequalities.

But local detail was not overshadowed by global concepts. The London School of Economics' Tony Thornley and Gothenberg's Bjorn Malbert used the conference hotel's riverside location as a visual aid for a comparative analysis confirming that London and Gothenberg's docklands redevelopment contrast sharply in the extent of public and popular involvement. The quayside flag proclaiming the development role played by the GLC - in this case the Goteberg Landsbild Centrum - gave extra edge to their arguments.

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