10th YA Conference 2016 Ghent

10th YA Conference 2016 Ghent image

Spatial Governance

Bridging Theory and Practice

(10th YA Conference, 2016, Ghent, March 21-24, 2016)

Organised by the Centre for Mobility and Spatial Planning, Ghent University, Belgium

Keynote speakers and Track chairs: Prof.dr. Willem Salet, Prof.dr. Yvonne Rydin, Prof.dr. Haim Yacobi, Prof.dr. Karsten Zimmermann

The popularity of the concept of governance has risen along with a growing perception that the power of the national state has waned. The ‘retreat of the state’ is often causally associated with the rise of neo-liberalism as a political ideology, this in relation to the growing political and strategic influence of non-state agencies (private corporations, religious organisations, community groups, non-profits, etc.) and international and sub-national governmental and parastatal organisations (Atkinson, 2005). However, for some it raises questions of the various actors’ responsibilities. How can especially civic actors not only be empowered, but also made accountable? Especially in spatial planning and planning processes, we have to deal with a set of diverse stakeholders. The problem is, however, that mainly in formalized processes a wide range of these new relationships with these stakeholders are being compressed into a one-size-fits-all concept of citizens participation, which doesn’t seem to provide the equal and reciprocal relationship between the state and citizens so much aimed for. In territorial governance, more and more informal and less democratic institutions emerge and are posing a challenge to democracy and to the democratic representation, accountability and transparency of decision-making processes (Castells, 1996). The privatization of public services and public spaces fuel the danger that spatial policy in a broad sense is being replaced from public debates into closed elite networks and technical experts. Moreover, these rigid and closed processes prevent more sustainable, intercultural or innovative socio-economic ideas or concepts to emerge in the future, especially from out of the civic actors. In this respect, a crucial element of spatial governance is and always will be the way in which people are excluded or included in planning processes and the way the relationship between people and government is organized.

Thematic areas for contributions

The focus of the conference is the challenge of bridging the gap between research and practice in spatial governance. we address in our tracks a variety of topics on dealing with complex planning issues through governance approaches. Therefore, we invite proposals that discuss themes and subjects including, but not limited to:

  • Shifting planning processes: anticipating and dealing with new elements and their effects in planning processes such as (planning) evaluation, stakeholder involvement, bottom-up actions and rapidly changing (socio-economic, cultural, environmental, etc.) contexts and goals.
    • What is the role of participation in governance?
    • What is the role of the public sector?
    • Is finding a consensus possible or necessary in participation processes?
  • Planning discourse building: (theoretical) paradigm shifts, theoretical underpinnings of innovations in governance leading to new insights.
    • How to define the role of planners (technical, facilitating, political)?
    • How can governance overcome rigid, fixed territories and deal with inter-national/regional fuzzy responsibilities?
    • How can planning laws be explicit and at the same time be open for future ideas?
  • Governing for sustainability and resilience: resilience building for environmental hazards,socio-economic urban (region) programs, multicultural neighbourhoods, sustainable energy and mobility, healthy cities, etc. and its implications for spatial practice.
    • How to dream about, but at the same time implement future ‘revolutionary’ (economic, sustainable, innovative) ideas?
    • How to deal with intercultural circumstances?
  • Spatial policy: how to maintain spatially bounded representative democratic systems while the processes of glocalization are changing the subject and territory of governance.
    • How are conflicts and dissents handled?
    • How to understand and keep distinct the political dimension of planning and the politics of planning which is the creation of a socio-spatial order?

Examples Governance Research Ghent University

The idea of governance gathers momentum in the Belgian region Flanders, both in research and in policy. This is enhanced by some specific challenges that put pressure on the traditionalist, top-down government structure and call for new governance approaches, supported by academic research.

One particular challenge is the growing empowerment of citizens, illustrated by the ‘Ringland’ initiative. This civic initiative arose out of protest against the proposed ‘Oosterweel’ connection, a long lasting, controversial and technocratically shielded project that should complete and improve the saturated ring road around Belgian port city Antwerp using a combination of tunnels and viaducts. Instead of sticking to protest, the Ringland initiative proposed an alternative solution consisting of an overall mobility concept for the city. They also added environmental concerns to the debate, collected (scientific) expertise and forged alliances with different stakeholders. By adopting social media, the civic initiative could soon gain the support of thousands of citizens. Today it still remains unclear if and how the Oosterweel connection project will be realised, yet eventually, the Ringland initiative (together with other grassroots movements) could add health and liveability aspects to the discussion. Along with many others, this example shows that the rigid top-down and ad hoc-planning of the government has reached its limits, and that other, innovative planning and governance approaches are needed to deal with the growing empowerment of citizens. For this purpose the Oosterweel connection is selected as a case in recent research at Ghent University on governance and sustainable mobility, which is part of a Flemish research project on urban logistics and mobility (ULM).

Another important challenge in Flanders is the multitude of governmental levels (European, federal, regional, provincial, local) and the discrepancy between political-administrative borders and urban growth boundaries (e.g. around Brussels, see Boussauw et al., 2012). For this example of a mismatch between the subject and territory of governance, more adaptive strategies of governance are needed. A promising approach is the establishment of governance networks on a city region scale. The city of Ghent together with the province of East-Flanders, supported by Ghent University, are experimenting with this supra-local collaboration (which will be subject of the workshop on day 4 of the congress).

The mismatch between the subject and territory of governance is also prevailing in spatial socio-economic debates. Reports from the OECD (2013, 2015) among others call to find solutions to the lock-in effects of the current (socio-economic) policy models. As globalization and glocalization (Swyngedouw, 2004) are rescaling socio-economic networks and territories, spatial policy is lacking adaptation to these new challenging situations. More and more, regions are focussing on a sustainable and robust socio-economic development but are struggling with the problem of representative democracy, especially because private corporations gained influence. Consequently, spatial socio-economic conflicts arise as these firms are no longer following, but steering spatial policy. To address these challenges, research of the Ghent University uses no longer the former top-down governmental structure that defines the geographical context, but starts from the more dynamic actor-relational structure. This approach is capable of better understanding the processes of glocalization and provides spatial policy with new insights that helps analysing and clarifying the current socio-economic spatial challenges.

Apart from analysing and clarifying the current challenges, supported by theoretical reflections, the research at Ghent University also wants to actively engage in society through action-research. This is expressed in the ‘Living Lab approach’, which enables governance and planning innovations in the field of mobility, energy, resilience and socio-economic planning. The purpose of these Living Labs is to initiate or provoke innovations and to anticipate future needs and redirect the innovations or the institutional setting if necessary. Central to this approach is that planning starts from the actors and the opportunities resulting from their cross-overs. As such, a Living Lab is a kind of network of open innovation in which a co-evolutionary planning process is adopted.

Local Organisation Committee and Young Academics Coordination Team


  • Karel Van den Berghe, Ghent University, Centre for Mobility and Spatial Planning (conference coordinator)
  • Thomas Verbeek, Ghent University, Centre for Mobility and Spatial Planning (conference coordinator)
  • Koos Fransen, Ghent University, Centre for Mobility and Spatial Planning
  • Suzanne Van Brussel, Ghent University, Centre for Mobility and Spatial Planning
  • Els Demyttenaere, Ghent University, Centre for Mobility and Spatial Planning


  • Nadia Caruso, Politecnico di Torino, Interuniversity Department of Regional and Urban Studies and Planning;
  • Karel Van den Berghe, Ghent University, Centre for Mobility and Spatial Planning (conference coordinator)
  • Simone Tulumello, University of Lisbon, Institute of Social Sciences;
  • Dana Shevah, Technion-Israel Institution of Technology
  • Mohammed Saleh, University of Groningen
In collaboration with: