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7M Euros for research will probe resilience, poverty and indicators

Piran in Slovenia - one of the many small or medium-sized towns in Europe, the theme for a new research study

Regional resilience in the face of economic crises; small and medium sized towns; and the territorial dimension of poverty and social exclusion in Europe are amongst 16 new research projects being tendered by ESPON this week. There is also a project on the use of indicators in national spatial planning that is the brainchild of the Scottish government. In all, ESPON is committing almost 7.5 million Euros to this phase of its research.

The full list of new projects for which tenders are being invited is as follows:

Applied research projects

  1. European neighbour regions (€750, 000.00)
  2. Small and medium sized towns in their functional territorial context (€650, 000.00)
  3. The territorial dimension of poverty and social exclusion in Europe (€750, 000.00)
  4. Economic crises: resilience of regions (€759, 153.00)

Targeted analyses

  1. Growth poles in South-Eastern Europe (€360, 000.00)
  2. Key indicators for territorial cohesion and spatial planning (€360, 000.00)
  3. Liveable landscapes for sustainable territorial development (€379, 796.09)
  4. Landscape policy for the Three Countries Park (€360, 000.00)
  5. North Sea – spreading transnational results (€340, 000.00)

Scientific platform projects

  1. EU territorial monitoring and reporting (€598, 000.00)
  2. ESPON Atlas on European territorial structures and dynamics (€150, 000.00)
  3. Detecting territorial potential and challenges (€350, 000.00)
  4. Territorial evidence packs for ERDF programmes (€500, 000.00)
  5. ESPON Online Mapping tool (€150, 000.00)
  6. Territorial monitoring in a European macro region – a test for the Baltic Sea Region (€360, 000.00)

The applied research projects require coverage of all 31 ESPON countries and involve building large scale data sets and developing and mapping indicators and typologies. However, the Targeted Analysis projects are narrower in their focus. They draw on previous ESPON data and findings. Crucially these projects have been proposed by practitioners, usually from 3 or more countries in each case. The research team needs to work closely with these stakeholders. The Scientific Platform projects are more about developing techniques of using and presenting data.

Projects require a team built up from researchers in at least 3 of the 31 ESPON countries. For full details of the projects and the briefs visit the ESPON web site.

“The Scottish Project”

The Lead Stakeholder behind the project “Key indicators for territorial cohesion and spatial planning” is the Scottish Government’s team working on Scotland’s National Planning Framework. This project will look at the preparation of similar strategies in Iceland, Ireland, Latvia and the Basque Country.  The researchers will be asked to identify good practice in the use of data, indicators and indices in the preparation of national development strategies.

Topical themes

Three of the applied research projects are concerned with very topical themes.  As noted in my previous blogs the idea of urban and regional resilience is attracting increasing attention internationally. Hopefully the new ESPON project will combine state of the art thinking on this topic with empirical analysis of the way Europe’s regions have been able to cope with the economic shocks of recent years. This should be a project of particular interest to the LEPs in the UK once it gets started next year.

The project on poverty and social exclusion marks ESPON’s first substantial move into the field of social policy.  Again there was a short study in the 2006 programme on “Social Issues”, but the new project is more ambitious.  Of course the project coincides with the implementation of austerity programmes across much of Europe which target welfare provision and risk escalation of poverty. It will be interesting to see how far the project is able to shed light of the impact of these dynamics on the territorial patterns of poverty and social exclusion.

European Neighbour Regions, the focus of another of the new projects, includes not just those to the east such as Russia and Ukraine, but also countries in North Africa. The ESPON 2006 project on “Europe in the World” scoped out the significance of this part of the world for the EU. The French-led research team noted that the aggregate economy of the Southern Mediterranean countries from Morocco to Israel and Turkey is far larger than that of the ten countries that joined the EU in 2004, and almost as large as that of Russia and Ukraine. How the EU relates to this region in the aftermath of the “Arab Spring” will be of great importance to its future.

Small and Medium-sized Towns

The new project on small and medium-sized towns also builds on previous preparatory work during the 2006 ESPON programme.  It pointed out that such towns constitute a significant part of the settlement structure in all countries, but risk being overlooked because of the focus on big cities and metropolitan regions. Yet they play important roles. A large proportion of Europe’s population lives or works in these towns.

UK ESPON Contact Point

I lead the team that provides the ESPON Contact Point for the UK through the RTPI. My colleagues Eleanor Rowe and Julius Ursu and I are happy to advise and assist UK researchers and consultants interested in getting involved in bids for any of the projects being tendered in this current (and final) round of the ESPON 2014 programme. We can be contacted at research@rtpi.org.uk. The deadline for submissions of the bids is 20 October. There is an Open Day in Brussels on 13 September that will provide a chance to hear about the new projects and search for potential partners.

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