Transit-oriented Development in asymmetrical context: Learning from cross-border paradoxes in the Great Geneva.


  • Flore Guichot EPFL


Territorial asymmetry, Cross-border cooperation, Transit-oriented Development, socio-ecological transition




Transit-oriented Development (TOD) is pictured as a pivotal strategy to accommodate growth while ending car dependency in metropolitan areas (Newman and Kenworthy, 2015). However, prevailing TOD research is often embedded in normative and progressive assumptions, failing to address the complexity of the model's impact in asymmetrical city regions (Qviström et al., 2019). Simultaneously, as traditional borders transform within the EU, borders' unconventional social, political, and economic roles are underscored, including in their intricate relationship with transport networks (Offner, 2008). However, border studies' focus on cross-border integration tends to yield an apolitical interpretation of spatial development strategies, overlooking evidence that strategies promoting functional integration of cross-border spaces do not inherently foster equitable or just outcomes (Gumy et al., 2022).

This contribution challenges these gaps in sustainable development discourse by adopting a critical perspective on public transport infrastructure and urbanization development in asymmetrical contexts. Emerging from asymmetric development and socio-economic relations, cross-border regions are paradigmatic examples of such situations. Therefore, the study delves into the tension between metropolization processes and socio-ecological transition objectives by examining the agency of TOD in the cross-border context of the Great Geneva. The research employs a critical lens through the framework of paradoxes to dismantle normative assumptions in current transition-oriented planning strategies.

The analysis centers on the Great Geneva as the primary case study and develops a comparative approach with other European metropolises as mirror cases. Nestled between Switzerland and France, the Great Geneva Agglomeration has set the ecological transition as the linchpin of its cross-border coordination rooted in cross-border infrastructure and development projects. This territory, marked by the asymmetry across the border in financial and institutional capacities, legal framework, and material, social, and economic conditions, provides valuable insights for understanding how new development projects beyond traditional borders comfort or challenge existing socio-spatial and economic dynamics.

The contribution analyzes the current cross-border planning vision alongside socio-economic dynamics, financing tools, legal frameworks, and policy objectives and highlights four paradoxes—the center-periphery paradoxe, the metropolitan paradoxe, the radio-centric paradoxe, and the rural-urban paradoxe. From the regional scale, for each paradox, we analyze an ongoing conflict surrounding infrastructure and development projects and the logic they opposed at the local level. Finally, the comparative perspective with other city regions highlights these paradoxes' specificity and generalizability and the potential means to address them.

As metropolitan regions strive to reach the objectives of the socio-ecological transition, cross-border regions are critical spaces to disentangle the competing rationals behind development projects. This complexity encapsulates the intricate political nature of infrastructure and urbanization projects in the age of transition (McFarlane and Rutherford, 2008). Moving beyond the discourse on whether green boosterism is at play, it becomes crucial to understand these paradoxes, their origins, and implications to break from the ready-made strategies and inform future planning strategies able to promote socially equitable and ecologically sustainable development across asymmetrical city regions.


Gumy, A., Drevon, G., & Kaufmann, V. (2022). Inequalities in access to cross-border resources? An analysis based on spatio-temporal behaviours in the cross-border area of Greater Geneva. European Urban and Regional Studies, 29(1), 85–106.

McFARLANE, C., & Rutherford, J. (2008). Political Infrastructures: Governing and Experiencing the Fabric of the City. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 32(2), 363–374.

Newman, P., & Kenworthy, J. (2015). The End of Automobile Dependence: How Cities Are Moving Beyond Car-Based Planning. Island Press/Center for Resource Economics.

Offner, J. (2000). 'Territorial deregulation': local authorities at risk from technical networks. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 24(1), 165–182.

Qviström, M., Luka, N., & De Block, G. (2019). Beyond Circular Thinking: Geographies of Transit‐Oriented Development. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 43(4), 786–793.