Conceptualizing City-Regional Spatial Planning in a Fragmented Urban Landscape


  • Theresia Morandell ETH Zurich, Eurac Research
  • Michael Wicki ETH Zurich
  • David Kaufmann ETH Zurich


spatial planning, city-region, metropolitan governance, soft spaces, multi-level governance




This contribution presents a conceptual framework for studying city-regional integration processes in spatial planning, amidst the ongoing urbanization phenomenon reshaping cities and creating intricate interdependencies with suburban and rural areas as they extend beyond administrative boundaries. This trend, evident across OECD countries, is characterized by institutional fragmentation where various local authorities govern small portions of the urban territory. This results in a fundamental challenge for spatial planning: How to manage growth in a context where the spatial dimension of development no longer aligns with traditional governance structures? In this complex backdrop, the city-region has emerged in both academic and policy discourse as a promising new, intermediate scale for formulating planning policy. This approach aims to address the spatial development of territories that are physically and functionally linked but politically fragmented into multiple administrative jurisdictions (Rodríguez-Pose, 2008).

Our framework offers an analytical tool to study city-regional integration processes in comparative research, identifying key drivers—both positive and negative—that influence the formulation of integrated spatial development policies in city-regional contexts. We synthesize insights from multi-level governance (MLG) (Hooghe & Marks, 2003), metropolitan governance (Zimmermann et al., 2020), and the interplay of hard and soft planning approaches in city-regions (Allmendinger et al., 2015). This diverse literature, while rich in insights on institutional arrangements, policy-making actors, and their interrelations, are rarely consolidated into a unified conceptual framework. The soft space literature helps us perceive the city-region as a flexible planning space where informal strategies supplement formal statutory plans, deemed insufficient for governing dynamic spatial transformations. The metropolitan and multi-level governance literatures, meanwhile, focus on institutional solutions and political dynamics within city-regional governance, highlighting the diffusion of planning powers among various stakeholders across and beyond city boundaries. Integrating these perspectives allow us to identify the constraints and opportunities that shape the adoption of integrated city-regional development policies.

While our primary goal is to establish a theoretical framework, we anchor our conceptual arguments in empirical evidence drawn from ongoing comparative research on city-regional integration in medium-sized European cities. By blending statistical analysis with case study insights, we aim to deepen our understanding of the geographic, socio-economic, demographic, and institutional factors driving city-regional integration initiatives in planning. This multifaceted approach not only advances our theoretical understanding but also provides practical insights for policymakers grappling with the complexities of spatial planning in fragmented urban landscapes.


Allmendinger, P., Haughton, G., & Knieling, J. (2015). Soft spaces, planning and emerging practices of territorial governance. In Soft Spaces in Europe. Routledge.

Hooghe, L., & Marks, G. (2003). Unraveling the Central State, but How? Types of Multi-level Governance. American Political Science Review, 97(2), 233–243.

Kübler, D., & Pagano, M. A. (2012). Urban Politics as Multilevel Analysis. In P. John, K. Mossberger, & S. E. Clarke (Eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Urban Politics (pp. 114–130). Oxford University Press.

Rodríguez-Pose, A. (2008). The Rise of the “City-region” Concept and its Development Policy Implications. European Planning Studies, 16(8), 1025–1046.

Zimmermann, K., Galland, D., & Harrison, J. (Eds.). (2020). Metropolitan Regions, Planning and Governance. Springer International Publishing.