Call for Papers: Smart City-Regional Governance International Symposium

Deadline: 29 May 2015 - 12:00am

Dates: 8 - 9 October 2015

Venue: Vrije Universiteit Brussel

Conveners: Brussels Centre for Urban Studies

This symposium sets out to explore the meaning and practice of ‘smartness’ in city-regional governance as it seeks to balance the competing quests for urban international competitiveness, national economic development and societal cohesion. The symposium also marks the decennial of ‘Regionalisation Symposia’ regularly organised since 2005 by the Centre for Urban and Regional Governance (University of Westminster) and the International City-Regional Policy Network (ICRPol.Net).

Globalisation has continuously increased the pressure on states, regions and localities to compete for presumed footloose capital in a bid to secure economic ‘growth’ as predominant indicator of ‘success’. This has increasingly resulted in a focus on cities and city-regions as identified ‘motors’ of regional and national economic development, questioning the role of large-scale state policies. Such questions have become more pertinent under the impact of now eight years of fiscal austerity, with state capacity to intervene in market-driven competitiveness increasingly limited. The result has been a growing foray by cities into the international sphere as a way of opening up new prospects and opportunities beyond the confines of the respective state as their traditional political-economic context.

One key narrative in particular that has been mobilised in the last decade has been that cities are ‘smart cities’. Smart cities are understood as entrepreneurial cities that respond immediately and efficiently to changes in global markets, as wired cities in which urban technologies contribute to better urban governance and management of infrastructures, or as cities in which entrepreneurial discoveries and collective experimentations lead to strategic specialisation. Such new, more experimental and enterprising policy making may be viewed as an expression of ‘smartness’ in urban governance, i.e. as a ‘new’ way of doing things, especially also when dealing with conflicting agendas and aspirations. Yet, the meanings of, and pre-conditions for, adopting and implementing ‘smartness’ vary considerably between places, influencing the propensity for its discursive and practical manifestations. A differing concentration or ‘density’ of ‘smartness’ sets apart cities from other, less politically capable, entrepreneurial or locationally attractive cities, but also from non-urban regions – be they part of a wider city-region, or located beyond. ‘Smartness’ may thus be understood in a broader sense than its conventional association with ‘smart growth’.

Such change has not only included the ‘obvious candidates’ – the global cities like London or New York, but also other, less often quoted cities. Whether ‘second tier’ cities, regional capitals or more peripheral urban places, cities are trying to raise their profiles and be recognised as places that ‘matter’. Be it through trans-border collaborations, joining city networks for specific policy agendas, or being granted a special status, even if merely temporary (e.g. ‘European Capital of Culture’), urban-centric competitiveness increasingly differentiates between such places and the less visible ‘rest’.

This raises questions about the nature of state territories as presumed homogenous entities in political and administrative terms, as well as access to democratic representation and policy legitimation. If some localities or regions are seemingly gaining more voice than others, such egality may no longer be provided. So, the question this symposium tries to explore concerns the scope for ‘smart’ cities and city regions to ‘go it alone’ in terms of seeking improved economic competitiveness, yet also – at the same time – respond to the demand for remaining part of a wider political and societal entity – the region or state.

How can ‘smartness’ in politics and policy-making help square that circle of a seeming conflict, even contradiction, between the quest for competitiveness – also at the behest of the region and state – international engagement, and the expectation of maintaining solidarity with, and responsibility for, the same larger entities. In other words, is urban competitiveness part of, or an alternative to, the idea of a cohesive society and state territory, where unevenness in developmental prospects is the new accepted ‘reality’? And can ‘smartness’ in governance ‘square the circle’ of seemingly conflicting interests and agendas?


Keynotes will offer conceptual ‘signposts’ for discussions at the symposium. Prof Andrew Jonas (University of Hull) has confirmed his participation in this ‘signposting’.

Papers are invited that address questions around inter alia:

–   collaborative governance in city regions (within and between city-regions, within and across regions and states)
–    cross-border city-regionalism (within and outside the EU)
–    urban competitiveness, economic policies
–    ‘smartness’ as a discourse/principle in policy making (e.g. role of sustainability in economic policy, paradigm shifts, ‘transition’ concept in governance discourses and practices)
–     cities and para-diplomacy (international engagement by sub-national actors)
–     urban competitiveness and democratic participation (in/exclusion),
–     city-regionalism and peripheralisation/marginalisation of areas and actors
–     city-regional governance and state structure (powers, responsibilities, political culture of urban regionalism)

Please send abstracts of around 300 words as expressions of interests to: Tassilo Herrschel ([email protected]) and Bas van Heur ([email protected])


A few bursaries of €200 each for PhD students are available on a competitive basis. To apply for one of these, please send an extended abstract of around 800 words by the stated deadline.

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