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Recherche et développement régional durable

Corinne Larrue

Session 3. L'innovation institutionnelle pour le développement régional durable / Needs for social and institutional innovation in relation to spatial planning

The territory, building block of tomorrow's governance


Pierre Calame

Texte intégral

  • 1 Fondation Charles Léopold Mayer, Paris, France.

1Note portant sur l’auteur1

2The paper looks at revival of the territoire (territorial region) as a basis for sustainable development.

3While being aware that local interests can incur the risk of marginalization, a historical view of the mechanisms of economic and social change suggests that the 21st century will see the come-back of the regions and a thorough revival of land use.

4From the 16th to the 20th century, there was a strong tendency to transform territorial regions into geographical areas. Up to the 18th century, it was possible to speak of autonomous regional sub-systems in which ecosystems, social, political and economic systems coincided. These sub-systems interacted through hierarchical systems such as monarchies, or through alliances and exchanges. It was this relationship between society and territorial region which gave the notion of region its full value.

5In terms of values, the shift from territorial region to geographical area implies the rise of the individual as opposed to the community ; in terms of technology, the use of fossil fuels, and in terms of doctrine, the triumph of social Darwinism. This shift began with the Renaissance, but only achieved its full expression politically with the French Revolution and economically with the industrial revolution and the rise of a new type of institution, namely the firm.

6There are two main trends which suggest the reversal of the centuries-old transformation of territorial regions into geographical areas. The first concerns actual technical and economic development : today, the economy is much more closely linked to the setting up of networks of knowledge and know-how, including networks between companies, leading in particular to a phenomenon of metropolization, i.e. a polarization of the area based on the necessity of prioritising local connections.

7The second trend is the inability of the economy to provide social cohesion and environmental sustainability. Because it is based on analysis of monetary movements, the economy ignores the essential non-commercial aspect of trade. In terms of added value, it is difficult to distinguish between the relative importance of the resources used and human work. For example, there are no tools for monitoring ecological footprints.

8Thus, everything encourages firms to reinvest in the regions. Furthermore, the territorial regions' come-back will in turn allow socio-political control to prove its worth.

9Three lines of thought arise from the come-back of the territorial regions :

  1. The region is where developmental alternatives can be created : it is in fact at the local level that the problems of the current development model can be best understood. It is also at the local level that experiments can most readily be carried out and action taken.
  2. The region is also where governance is improved : it is at the local level that problem-solving debates can be organised and shared ideas developed.
  3. From local to global organisation : under the new governance, the tension would shift from regional management to interaction between different regional levels. From now on, one should think in terms of shared responsibility according to the concept of active subsidiarity.


1 Fondation Charles Léopold Mayer, Paris, France.


© Presses universitaires François-Rabelais, 2002

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