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The rise of the “city-region” concept and its development policy implications

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As well as enjoying a rich scientific history, the concept of the “city-region” has also attracted particular attention in recent years. Combinations of an urban core or cores, linked to semi-urban and rural hinterland by functional ties, are increasingly regarded as the “adequate” scale for the implementation of development policies. The popularization and widespread use of the city-region concept for policy-making has important implications for the design and implementation of development strategies. It first signals a change from sectoral to territorial approaches to development and requires the adjustment of development strategies to widely varying contexts, leading to much greater policy diversity and innovation. It also involves a more complex governance structure, characterized by the horizontal and vertical coordination of numerous institutional public and private actors, and enables experimentation with bottom-up and participatory policy-making. This paper evaluates these changes and critically addresses their normative implications, especially in light of the facts that there is still little agreement on how the city-region is defined, that the term has become appropriated by urban elites, and that the problems faced by city-regions may not be that different from those operating at other geographical scales.

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